Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Behind the Scenes

Every time I visit a public garden, I’m impressed. The displays are usually spectacular, nearly weed free, and looking as fresh as they day they were planted. Did you ever wonder how this gardening miracle was achieved?

I never really thought about it until recent visits to the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Biltmore Estate where my group received ‘behind the scenes’ tours. At the Chicago Botanic Garden, we saw the quarter mile long area where plants are grown and cared for in as ideal conditions as possible. Plants that like morning sun are placed on the East side, while plants preferring strong sun are on the West. Some plants grow in houses that maintain humidity at a certain level while others live in arid conditions. A number of plants are grown outside once the weather is warm enough, while others remain indoors in tightly controlled environments.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Imagine the time and effort required to create and maintain a bed constructed of plant material.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Gardeners at the Chicago Botanic Garden grow and care for unique specimens in climate-controlled houses like this one.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
When not on display, the Bonsai collection grows indoors where it can be meticulously maintained
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
A sophisticated watering system helps reduce the need for hand watering and saves time
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Staff use a heated bench for seed germination and to grow plant material at a certain rate for displays

Special mum displays for fall are started months earlier and trained along forms. Seasonal back-up plants are ready and waiting to replace any like specimens that aren’t performing up to snuff. I would love to have the ability to swap out plants in my garden like that. Wouldn’t it be great to replace that crispy Astilbe that suffered through a drought with a perfectly fresh replacement? Of course, most homeowners don’t have the time or the budget to do the kind of work performed by hard-working public garden staff members. Knowing how much effort and money went into creating such special places, made me appreciate them even more.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Containers are growing, ready and waiting for future displays

I was also inspired by the plant trial gardens and breeding programs. Often public gardens have plant curators who seek out unusual plant material from around the world. They breed plants that can be used successfully in home gardens. Chicagoland Boxwood is an example of this; the Chicago Botanic Garden introduced this cultivar as a cold hardy boxwood that maintains its green color in the frigid Illinois winters.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Staff members grow plants outdoors once it’s warm enough
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Echinacea plants grow happily in the trial garden

At the Biltmore Estate we learned how the staff is honoring this historic garden. When plants need to be replaced, such as a diseased Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) hedge, the staff references the original design created by Frederick Law Olmsted. Since Olmsted’s design recommended American Holly (Ilex opaca), that is the plant the staff will use as a new, native and disease resistant hedge. I think most public gardens do their best to honor the spaces we visit and make them welcoming to all.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
The Tsuga hedge in this picture (top left) will be replaced in the fall in keeping with the original design
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
An accessibility display at the Chicago Botanic Garden featured wheelchair access and scented plants for physically or visually challenged visitors
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
A vertical display was kid-friendly and welcomed the touch of passersby

I respect and admire the work our public garden staffs do and hope you’ll think about the talented gardeners that keep them looking so good for our visits. And don’t hesitate to use some public garden strategies in your own landscape. Replace plants that aren’t performing well with fresh specimens that will grow better in the space. Consider how visitors see your garden and do your best to make it welcoming to all. Most of all, enjoy your garden and all those public (and private) spaces you visit.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

On the Road Again

I love visiting gardens and seek out every opportunity I have to wander through public and private spaces. During a recent road trip through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan I gained inspiration from many different landscapes. I realized there are often many take-aways from visiting other gardens which can easily be applied to your own oasis.

Light the way

Most of us are busy. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’m actually able to relax in my garden and absorb its beauty. By adding interesting lighting to your outdoor space, you can extend the time spent in your garden and further your enjoyment of it. This becomes especially important as days become shorter. Plus, lighting adds an incredible ambience and can enhance your viewing of plant material.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Woven wooden lighting in the Phipps Conservatory
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Interesting lighting in the Cuba exhibit at Phipps Conservatory

Add Whimsy

Who doesn’t enjoy laughing? After all, it is one of the best medicines (or so they say). The Hidden Life of Trolls exhibit at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh made me laugh out loud. Think about ways you can add the unexpected to your landscape and cause a garden visitor to smile as they take in the scenery.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
A troll made entirely of plant material at the Phipps Conservatory
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
More troll whimsy at Phipps

Incorporate Sculpture

Some gardens are dedicated to sculpture like the Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey and the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I believe every garden is enhanced by the addition of a sculpture to create a focal point or invite someone to a certain part of the garden.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
A modern sculpture in Grand Rapids, MI at the Frederik Meijer Garden
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Horseshoes became butterflies in Holland, MI
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Sculpture in the Phipps Conservatory
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Glass flowers seem right at home among live plants
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Another glass sculpture creates a magical space

Use Unconventional Containers

When looking for a container, don’t always choose the obvious vessel. There are many different objects that make great and interesting containers such as galvanized buckets or even Dutch wooden shoes!

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
An old bucket makes a perfect container for succulents
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Have some old shoes? Why not use them as planters!

There is no shame in using someone else’s ideas in your own garden. Go ahead and add some light, whimsy, sculpture or unique containers to your landscape. Then enjoy your additions and reflect on your travels and the spaces that inspired them.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Winter walks

Most people don’t think of February as a month for garden tours, but I encourage you to change your mindset. Winter is a perfect time to experience gardens when you can see their bones, notice what creates interest and enjoy smaller crowds. Peace comes with touring gardens in the quiet of the off-season.

In the Philadelphia area we are lucky to live in America’s Garden Capital. With over 30 public gardens within 3o miles of the city, we have many gardens to choose from. A number of these gardens are open in the winter and waiting for your visit. I recently visited two area arboretums and was enthralled with their meandering paths, extensive plantings and winter wonder.

The Morris Arboretum was first on the list. Located in Chestnut Hill, the site includes tens of thousands of plants including many collected by plantsman John Morris and his sister Lydia who lived on the property when it was a private home. Some of Delaware Valley’s oldest specimen trees grow at the Morris. During our visit we took note of these features as well as the use of evergreens to frame views, spent seed heads, plants in flower and texture created by plant material.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) needles provide amazing texture in the winter garden
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Spent roses cascade over a bed of lavender and rosemary
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Corylus fargesii catkins offer interest in the winter
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Metasequoia buttresses contrast beautifully with the blooming Witch Hazel
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Snowdrops (Galanthus) bloom happily in the winter garden
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Mahonia x Winter Sun flowers are beautiful golden rays in February
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Evergreens are especially noticeable when they perfectly frame a view like this waterfall

In addition to the outdoor spaces, a number of Philadelphia’s public gardens have greenhouses or conservatories that provide a break from the cold and access to flowering non-hardy plants. Who doesn’t love being immersed in a sea of lush foliage or fragrant blooms in the middle of winter?

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Inside the fernery we were warm and enveloped in humidity

The second garden I had the opportunity to see this winter was the Tyler arboretum located in Media. Tyler spans over five hundred acres and includes seventeen miles of hiking trails and extensive plant collections. Tyler is one of the oldest arboretums in the region dating back to 1681. The property that makes up the arboretum today was purchased by Thomas Minshall from William Penn. Like the Morris, Tyler is home to some magnificent trees including those deemed ‘champions’ because they are the largest individual specimens of a particular species. We particularly enjoyed the Witch Hazel collection during our visit.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
One of many blooming Witch Hazels at Tyler
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
A fragrant wintersweet bloom (Chimonanthus praecox var. Luteus) soothes the soul
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Croton alabamensis shows off some lingering fall color and awaiting spring flowers
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
The structure of Sweetgum ‘Corky’ (Liquidambar styraciflua) was mesmerizing
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Bark might go unnoticed during the growing season, but not in the winter.

Clearly I was inspired by my tours to two Philadelphia’s area gardens this winter. I encourage you to seek out some you would like to see and make a plan to visit. I’m confident that in addition to many ideas for your own landscape, you will leave with a calm mind and warm heart.


PPC amphitheater

A Perennial Favorite

Each year I look forward to the Perennial Plant Conference in October, an amazing full day event including lectures given by horticulturalists from around the world. This year’s conference welcomed speakers from Japan, the Netherlands, the US, and Britain.

Started over 35 years ago, the conference continued its educational focus by gathering experts in the field to share knowledge and experiences. The sold out conference attracted 600 attendees and was held on the grounds of Swarthmore College which is advertised as “the most beautiful campus in America.” I can attest to the beauty of the campus. As with the other attendees, I was able to tour the campus before and after the conference. I even ate lunch in the gorgeous amphitheater where students celebrate graduation rain or shine.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference
This is what the crowd looks like during a break. I can see the coffee urn but it seems to be a mile away!
Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference
Loved these chairs – what a great place to take a break from the auditorium.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference
Shady spots welcomed visitors too.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference
The amphitheater is my favorite spot on Swarthmore’s campus. Just stunning.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference
When you tired of sitting you could tour the rose garden.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference
The blooms were amazing.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference
This water feature with floating blooms and the reflection of the surrounding trees was magical.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference
The fall colors in the gardens inspired visitors.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference
Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ colonized along the pathways.


The conference was co-sponsored by ChanticleerLongwood GardensThe Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic GroupPennsylvania Horticultural Society, and The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College. That’s some serious backing, which is probably why the speakers are well regarded and the attendance so impressive.

This year’s program included presentations on naturalistic plantings such as Midori Shintani’s discussion about the Millennium Forest and her team’s strategy to merge the cultivated gardens into the natural expanse beyond. Midori explained how her team used random software to position plants in an organic way.

Jacqueline Van Der Kloet, an internationally acclaimed garden designer from Holland, shared her tips for a cohesive design including the need to consider a winter framework of trees and hedges, a planned sequence of flowering for maximum impact, use of repetition for a naturalistic effect, and a recommendation to tie plant colors to the buildings in the background. Of course Jacqueline also suggested lots of bulbs which was no surprise given her Dutch background.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol Perennial Plant Conference
When you are Dutch, bulbs are a must.

Ivin Etienne, Horticulture Display Coordinator for The Garden at Newfields in Indiana, explained that plants have to perform in a public display. There is no tolerance for a part of the garden that isn’t working when you have visitors every day. He highlighted a number of tried and true plants used at Newfields including Hellebores, Epimediums, Baptisia, Iris, Hosta, and Echinacea.

Panayoti Kelaidis is associated with the Denver Botanic Gardens. His presentation focused on rock garden plants that thrive in Colorado’s alpine environment and can also be used in other parts of the country if given the right conditions.

Lee Buttala, an author and television producer, stressed the need to let plants go to seed in order to allow new varieties to be born and to create more balanced ecosystems.

Finally, British garden designer, James Alexander-Sinclair, shared some of his work and explained his design principles such as using angles to make a space look bigger, hiding parts of the garden to reveal it slowly, and doing more planting close to the house. I particularly liked his comment that gardens are only as good as those who look after them. He said what the world needs is more gardeners. I am glad I am one of them at that I have the opportunity to tend gardens every day and attend wonderful educational events like the Perennial Plant Conference.

If you have a passion for perennials or just love plants, I encourage you to attend next year. Be sure to register early though as the 2020 program will likely sell out quickly.



Hitting the Rails

I love visiting the High Line when I go to New York City. I’ve meandered through this amazing park in the winter and in the summer and am confident it is beautiful in every season. Once home to the New York Central Railroad, the elevated railway turned garden was set to be demolished. Fortunately, a motivated and visionary Chelsea resident took the lead and set up a foundation to transform one and a half miles of the abandoned railway into a recreational space. As the New York Times said, the ‘frog of the railroad was to become a prince of a park.” The High Line has been open for ten years and currently includes fifteen different planting zones and over 100,000 plants inspired by the wild landscape that once grew on the abandoned site.

Imagine my excitement when I learned my home city, Philadelphia, was opening its own rail park inspired by the High Line. The first quarter mile of the three mile park opened in June of 2018 and is situated on the obsolete railways of two rail lines that serviced the popular Reading Terminal Market in Center City.

Philadelphia Rail Park
The first phase of the Philadelphia Rail Park invites visitors to stroll through an industrial part of the city
Philadelphia Rail Park
One of the unique features of the Rail Park is this metal wall highlighting Philadelphia based companies
Philadephia Rail Park
When you need a rest you can relax on a swing and take in the sights and sounds of the city below
Philadelphia Rail Park
While dogs are welcome, they are encouraged not to water the plants.

Philadelphia Parks and Rec commissioner, Kathryn Ott Lovell commented that the park “will connect neighborhoods during a time when our country needs to be connected and that’s the great power of parks.” I couldn’t agree more. Gardens and landscaped public spaces have the amazing ability to transform our attitudes, lift our spirits and bring us together as a community. If you are able to visit either of these parks I encourage you to do so. I visited Philly’s Rail Park last month and left inspired and wanting more as I experienced my adopted home town from a unique perspective.

zurich botanic garden

Global Inspiration

I make it a point to seek out gardens when I travel. Quite honestly I can’t help myself as I find inspiration in every garden I visit. During a recent trip to Zurich, Switzerland after a rigorous five day hiking trip in the countryside, I meandered through the small botanic garden located adjacent to the University of Zurich. Locals seemed to enjoy the small space as much as tourists and I can’t blame them since access to the garden is free to all.

Zurich Botanic Garden
Enjoying a view of the biospheres from a shady spot

Biospheres contained tropical and desert specimens, while a water garden featured lily pads reminiscent of what you would see at Philadelphia area gardens like Chanticleer and Longwood Gardens. A woodland setting provided shade perfect for reading or enjoying an afternoon snooze.

Zurich Botanic Garden
The lily pad garden
Zurich Botanic Garden
Inside the tropical biosphere

Display areas highlighted plant material for residential landscapes. As in the United States and in other parts of the word, use of native plant material was recommended to attract pollinators and to support the environment.

Zurich Botanic Garden
A pollinator habitat

I noticed that those maintaining the garden were not quick to deadhead or remove spent blooms, instead leaving them for ornamentation. My impression was that the naturalistic plant movement was as alive in Zurich as it was across the globe.

Zurich Botanic Garden
Seed heads added interest
Zurich Botanic Garden
A naturalistic border flanked the stairway

While it didn’t take long to visit the approximately five acre garden, I left relaxed and refreshed. I related to the space on many levels and particularly liked the statue of the woman holding her foot; I felt her pain after hiking ten miles a day in the Alps. I too needed a foot rub!

Zurich Botanic Garden
I felt her pain after my hiking trip!

When you have the opportunity to visit a public or private garden, take it. I promise you will be inspired by something whether that’s a structure, sculpture, design or plant.


Beautiful Gardens Everywhere

“Nothing stirs the soul and inspires the mind quite like a beautiful garden.” That’s how Alan Titchmarshbegins the first episode of my new favorite Netflix series Love Your Garden. I can relate to Alan’s statement as I have been inspired by many gardens in my lifetime, taking impressions and ideas with me and implementing them in my own landscape in a way that soothes my soul.

I’ve made it a practice to visit public gardens when I travel, which I think is a spectacular way to explore a new place, while getting a sense of the garden style and plantings that are typical of an area.There are always takeaways that get tucked inside my mind for later use whether that’s a combination of plants, a design for a sitting area or a way to attract wildlife to your garden. How do I decide which gardens to visit? The book 1001 Gardens to See Before You Die identifies places to visit all over the world. You can also join a local plant society like the Garden Conservancy or the Hardy Plant Society to gain access to private gardens in your area or the area where you are traveling. Or simply search the internet to see what’s nearby.

This year I have already visited three spectacular public gardens including the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona, the Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha, Nebraska, and the Biltmore Estate Gardens in Asheville, North Carolina. 

Desperate to escape the Northeast winter before Nor’easter number four hit, I hopped on a plane to Phoenix in March. After a lovely day hiking, my friend and I sauntered around the Desert Botanic Gardens at dusk for a magical display. 

A glass exhibit by Chihuly welcomed us and perfectly echoed the natural cactus in the landscape.

Chihuly’s sculptures looked like real cactus plants

While many of the 20,000 plants on display were not applicable to my northeast climate, the pairing of fine textured plants with those that have bolder foliage proved to be a winning combination. 

Feathery textures combined with broad-based foliage

The concept of a shade garden in Arizona made me laugh. Clearly, gardeners were challenged in this department as this area of the 50 acre landscape was not thriving.

Shade gardening in Arizona?

An inspirational quote caused me to pause and reflect while the borrowed views of the distant mountains provided a calming focal point.

So true!

Borrowed views are fantastic

In every part of the country Mother Nature gives us something to ponder.  A rare mutation of the saguaro cactus known as a crested cactus could be observed from all angles.

A crested cactus

Naturalistic plantings are all the rage in the United States. Proponents recommend removing manicured lawns and installing native grasses instead. Clearly Arizona was on board with this trend.

A naturalistic planting

The importance of color in a garden is universal.  Here the repetition of the rust color in the wall and the plant material created a peaceful atmosphere.

Complementary colors in action

Next up was Omaha, Nebraska in May and a visit to the Lauritzen Gardens. The majority of the plantings were dormant, but the bones of the garden told the story. Sometimes I think you see more when you visit a garden in the winter as you notice features and structures you might otherwise overlook like a planter that’s built into a wall or a poignant message on a bench. 

This planter was part of the surrounding wall
Another meaningful quote

The power of a conservatory is apparent during the winter months. During our visit the tropical conservatory included an art exhibit called ‘Metamorphosis’ featuring birds and aquatic creatures formed out of plastic, the ultimate in recycling. The exhibit was not only a feast for the eyes, but also a statement about becoming better stewards of our environment. 

A jellyfish made entirely of recycled plastic

Also in the conservatory were roses left a bit unkempt, their petals forming a carpet on the top of the wall. There was even an elephant in the room — and he was a water feature!

I appreciated the lack of clean up in the rose department
An adorable elephant water feature

The last garden I visited had been on my bucket list for many years. The Biltmore Estate, America’s largest private home, was the ultimate destination. The gardens, both formal and informal, were bursting with color. Of course this was the intention of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, considered to be the father of landscape architecture. Based on information from my friend’s fitness device, we walked eight miles of trails in the garden from the azalea garden, to the meadow, to the rose garden. I savored every inch!

The blinding colors of the blooming azaleas

While the rose garden’s hundreds of plants weren’t in bloom, the Chinese wisteria was and it put on quite a show visually and with its intoxicating fragrance. 

The well trained wisteria

Biltmore also had a conservatory that masterfully combined colors and textures into a feast for the eyes. 

A lovely composition in the conservatory

In contrast to the formal gardens, the natural areas like the meadow and Bass Pond showed how depth of field plays a role in a successful design, with plantings in the foreground and in the distance. I also loved how the Biltmore Estate emphasized bloom time. They even had a daily exhibit showing what was blooming in the garden. 

Bass Pond with a Calycanthus shrub in the foreground

Biltmore’s daily display of what’s blooming in the garden

I have a few more trips planned this year and have purchased tickets to multiple gardens tours. I’m sure each and every garden I see will be beautiful in its own way and inspire me in some way. I encourage you to visit gardens when you travel or even those in your own town. Celebrate the diversity of the landscape on this little planet we share. What a great opportunity to combine exercise, relaxation, education and a cultural outing into a memorable and potentially life-changing experience.