Go Big and Go Home

This week Allie at Kate Collins Interiors wrote about the myriad design and health benefits of using big plants indoors. [spotify id="spotify:track:5cbnlD2QPJoEZvx7iGan33" width="300" height="380" /]

(Tangentially, remember Kate & Allie? I loved that show. Am I totally dating myself here? Sigh – the K.C.I. Kate and Allie are a pair of fabulous cousins, and they are probably way too young to have watched their eponymous program.) Anyhow, Allie has been discussing the use of big plants in a living space, as opposed to little orchids or aloes on a kitchen counter, although the little guys do have a special place in my heart (and home) as well.

Ficus lyrata in Anna Burke's living room (detail)   Photo: Lonny Mag, March/April 2012

Today I’m joining the indoor greenery fray with a long overdue post on houseplants, due in part to some feedback from my friend Shona in Hong Kong who recently wrote that she enjoyed the blog (thank you, Shona) despite  – or perhaps because of – the scarcity of soil in her city of residence. Likewise my homies in Manhattan, and this got me to thinking that the blog has been very lots-of-space-centric of late. Discrimination I cannot abide, be it of land size, marital partner, or plant choice, so let us without further ado delve into the world of balconies, windows, and well-lit interiors. (Because I will always discriminate against the poorly lit, as will any discerning houseplant.)

Split-leaf philodendron  Photo: William Waldron, Elle Decor

Allie’s first foliage port of call was with big, leafy greens, which can be used to fill vertical space as room dividers, between armchairs, or to create depth and mystery while drawing someone through the planes of a room. The best place to start is with the Ficus family, which is a vast one, ranging from the 100’ rubber tree (Ficus elastica) to the 11” creeping fig ‘Minima’ (Ficus pumila).

Ficus lyrata   Photo: Peonies & Brass, May 2012

Ficus lyrata, the fiddle-leaf fig, is a dreamy plant, and I was first introduced to it by my friend Amanda, who has superb taste in plants and spotted it in Lonny, Apartment Therapy and Peonies & Brass. Ikea makes a fake version, which we will choose to ignore. (I discriminate against fake plants as well as bad lighting. And fecal cake, for that matter, so that’s three strikes against Ikea.) Real Ficus lyrata has bold, dark green leaves that resemble a violin in shape and make a striking and graphic contrast against white walls.

Fiddle leaf fig    Photo: Grey Crawford, Elle Decor

Another Ficus with gorgeous foliage is the edible fig (Ficus carica, but often just called ‘Fig’). ‘Petite Negra’ is a dwarf variety that stays compact, making it an easy choice for an apartment. If it gets enough bright sunlight and water, the edible fig will provide you with (wait for it…) edible figs. How luscious and pharaoh-esque to pluck fruit from the trees growing round your living space?

Photo: California figs

The fig and its leaf have long been used in art and cultivation, long before prudish popes and Victorians used them to cover nudity. Ficus carica is indigenous to Egypt and has been grown in the Nile Valley since at least 1500 BC.

'I [ask that I] may each day walk continuously on the banks of my water, that my soul may repose on the branches of the trees that I have planted, that I may refresh myself under the shade of my sycomore [fig].' -  Inscription on the tombs of wealthy Egyptians, ca. 2000 BC

Ficus is also sacred to Buddhists and Brahmins; a childlike Krishna is depicted lying on a fig leaf contemplating the destruction of the universe at the end of the kalpa, or cosmic age. You know, just in case you want to get deep while lying on your sofa contemplating your ficus.

Photo: Kailash Raj, Krishna on a Fig Leaf, Watercolor on paper, 8" x 12"

Growing Ficus

Light: Eastern or western exposure; bright but indirect light.

Water: Ficus carica is very thirsty in a container. Other varieties of ficus have low water needs.

Soil: Good organic potting soil with some compost mixed in at planting time.

Feed: Fertilize from early spring through late autumn.

Temperature: Ideal nighttime temperatures are from 50–60°F (10–15°C).

Orange fruit and blossom   Photo: Ellen Levy Finch

Along a similar cultural, historical and edible vein is citrus. If you have the budget and the space for it, a potted citrus in a brightly lit room nails the indoor plant triumvirate: evergreen foliage, edible fruit and mind-bendingly heady fragrance. For indoor success, give your citrus plant a south, west or east window to sit in front of, but keep in mind that if you live next door to a skyscraper that blocks your southern sunlight, just go to the Union Square Greenmarket instead.

Potted 'Ponderosa' lemon  Photo: thekitchn.com

As a houseplant, 'Ponderosa' lemon is probably your best citrus choice because of its size. At 3-4’ in a 12” terracotta pot, it certainly isn’t small, but if you want a stately “orangerie-esque” Versailles feel to your pad, this is the lemon for you. It isn’t the best culinarily, but remember that a plant’s optimal growth site is in the ground, and if you choose to forgo the soil and bio-organisms available there, some give and take has to be made. If quality edibles trump gorgeous container plant for you, try instead a kumquat or calamondin, which are sour oranges and naturally compact and thus won’t punish you for growing them in pots.

Calamondin  Photo: The Chelsea Gardener

Growing Citrus

Light: Sunny southern, eastern or western exposure

Water: Moderate. Avoid overwatering and root rot.

Soil: Rich organic potting soil with compost mixed in at planting time.

Feed: Fertilize in early spring, summer and late autumn with specialist citrus food. Watch for chlorosis (yellowing leaves) and treat with chelated iron, manganese or zinc. Take affected leaf to a good local nursery for help identifying which mineral to use.

Temperature: 55–65°F (12–18°C) at night

Photo: Standard cymbidium

And finally I can’t recommend highly enough a member of the orchid family, the Cymbidium. Forget any preconceptions of fussiness or prom corsages from 1987 (I’m not that old, FYI; it was 1994 and I believe a white rose, not an orchid. Not worth the pain of digging up the photo to check, because I seem to remember there were also black pantyhose under my red Jessica McClintock dress. God, do we blame the ‘90s or being 17? Or Jessica McClintock? What must her closet have looked like circa 1993?)

Photo: 'Frida' cymbidium

In coastal California, cymbidiums grow extremely well in containers outside, so I will say, “Put them on your balcony in Santa Monica!” with great jollity so as not to discriminate against the smaller-homed amongst us. They must have nighttime temperatures below 60°F (16°C) in the autumn in order to set flower buds, so if this isn’t likely outside where you live, keep them as a luscious indoor plant. Their foliage is long, straplike and evergreen. Its ideal color should be lightish yellow-green; if the foliage is forest green, the plant isn’t getting enough light. The stunning flowers tend to bloom from late winter through spring for months on end and range in color from pink to bronze, yellow to chartreuse, deep burgundy to white. Cut the flower spikes at the base after flowering and repot infrequently, only when the pot seems overcrowded by dead pseudobulbs (the oval base from which new growth originates). The general rule on when to repot is after flowering but before the 4th of July.


Growing Cymbidiums

Light: Bright and indirect. Black or dark brown spots on the leaves indicate sunburn and the need for a new site. Very dark green leaves indicate insufficient light.

Water: Underwatering is bad but it is preferable to overwatering. Once a week is good; do it more in very hot weather. Indoors these plants are susceptible to spider mites, so rinse or mist the leaves as well while watering.

Soil: Plant in fine fir bark blended with perlite or leaf mold. Because of their size and weight, it’s best to pot cymbidiums in plastic pots, placing those inside better-looking decorative containers.

Feed: These boys are generally hungry. While growing leaves and creating bulbs, cymbidiums will want 20-20-20 fertilizer at the suggested rate. Once the bulb has matured use 0-10-10 (the 0 means no nitrogen) to encourage flowering. After the blooms die back, return to the 20-20-20. Confused? I feed mine never, and they both flowered this year.

Read more:

Kate Collins Interiors, kcinteriors.wordpress.com

Tovah Martin, The Unexpected Houseplant, Portland, London, 2012.

Bruce Rogers, The Orchid Whisperer, San Francisco, 2012.

Eye of the Tiger

Expounding on last week’s master class (literally, Linda is a feng shui master) on feng shui in the garden, this week we delve a little deeper into the realm of the White Tiger, celestial doyenne of feminine and nurturing energy. Whereas the Green Dragon (more on him to come) dictates the use of specific evergreen plants in his area of the garden, the White Tiger’s needs are met with softness and quietude.

And who shall silence all the airs and madrigals, that whisper softness in the chambers?

– John Milton, Areopagitica, 1644

One of the most difficult yet important challenges in creating a space – whether interior or exterior – is to engage all of the senses. One of the crucial points on my design checklist is to ensure that a space is a sensuous one, and over the next few weeks, we’ll look at each of the senses separately. In honor of the White Tiger, we begin by investigating touch, the most nebulous and difficult of the senses to define but the most instinctive and innate to experience.


The skin is the largest organ – 20 square feet of it in all, that’s kind of gross – and it is brimming with receptors that send neutral messages to the brain which then interprets them into feelings: pain, pleasure, ticklishness, itchiness, etc. I am operating way above my pay grade here, by the way, so please ask no questions. In his utterly glorious book The Sensuous Garden, Monty Don proclaims that “the closest we can get to any garden is only skin deep. Of all the senses, touch understands least, knows most.” Think of feet on cool grass on a hot day; fingers oozing through mud to make an appallingly glorious mud pie (I have sons); piercing a finger on a rose or cactus thorn – pleasant or not, these deeply experienced moments are an integral part of being outside.

Photo: poetrycityy.blogspot.com, April 2012

In the same way that my baby son knows intuitively how to erase the banking information from my iPhone (thank you, Apple), my little boys are without fail drawn straight to the Stachys byzantina (Lambs’ ears) growing in my garden. They know instinctively what feels interesting and inviting. Horticulturally, stachys is thought of as an excellent all-rounder and background player, but kid-wise, it’s a star player. My son giggles uncontrollably each time he picks a leaf, and then he ceremoniously presents it to me as some kind of offering. I can remember being irresistibly drawn to pussy willow (Salix discolor) when I was little, and yes, I know that now all of my male readers are also giggling uncontrollably.

Stachys byzantina Photo: pbmgarden.wordpress.com

Stachys’s fuzzy, silver foliage makes it resilient to heat and deer and allows it to conserve water – the little hairs reduce transpiration, if you really want to know, and render it unappealing to deer, in a hungover-tongue kind of way. That said, I find it does tolerate shade better than most of the silver-leafed plants. (Senecio and artemisia, for instance, will not thank you for planting them under your sprawling shade trees.) There isn’t much that doesn’t look better set off by lambs’ ears – even the name is evocative – but especially good companions are ‘Konigin Charlotte’ Japanese anemones and purple-flowered salvias, such as S. leucantha ‘Midnight.’ If you’re more of a furry than a fuzzy – does anyone else remember than Vanity Fair article in the ‘90s?  I’ll never forget my friend Logan explaining the difference to me – take a look at Meconopsis paniculata, whose foliage looks straight outta Sesame Street.

Meconopsis paniculata foliage   Photo: Alpine Garden Society, October 2009

Another softy (furry? fuzzy? Now I can’t remember the difference between the two) is bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare purpureum, how’s that for a mouthful) who grows to a whopping 6’ and spreads its seeds all about at the end of the season, generally September or October. Most gardeners and gardening books complain about this propensity to self-sow, but honestly I am firmly in the camp of lazy gardeners who can’t see this as anything but a bonus. Anyone who knows me will tell you that my only control issues are that I generally don’t have any, so there’s your caveat if you like things tightly in check, but I am so often asked for ways to save money while not comprimising the garden, and I can’t see how self-seeders aren’t the perfect answer here. Buy a few plants now, watch your collection expand each year! And when you don’t want to add any more to your name, you can either cut the flower heads off before they go to seed, or pull up the new seedlings before they hit full height. Anyway, there you have Lindsay’s quick and dirty, laissez-faire take on cheap gardening.

Bronze fennel   Photo: Roberto Rossi Nursery

Back to the White Tiger and her quest for softness: bronze fennel is excellent in a herb garden and as a companion to purple or pink-flowering shrubs, particularly roses, as it can cut their saccharine quality. Fennel is an umbelliferous plant – meaning what your eye sees as a flower is actually an ‘umbel,’ zillions of tiny flowers in an upturned platter shape – and consequently, butterflies love it. If you live somewhere along their migratory path, you’re sure to see their fat and psychedelic little caterpillars chomping away on its delicate, ferny fronds. Please don’t flick them away or spray chemicals all over your garden! You’ll have six feet worth of fennel for them to chew; surely we can share? If we don’t allow caterpillars to munch our leaves, we can’t expect to see their glorious adult incarnations flitting about our skies.

Swallowtail caterpillar on bronze fennel   Photo: Susan Albert

‘Giant Bronze’ is the cultivar best liked by the master plantsman and designer Piet Oudolf. He uses it as a screen effect, only lightly obscuring the plants behind it, and couples it with Echinacea, Echinops, Monarda and Stipa. Cut the old, thick fennel stalks down to the ground at the end of each winter to allow new growth and prevent bulkiness. Before you do so, collect the seeds from the umbels and use them in your kitchen; this is exactly what you’re getting when you buy fennel seed for your spice rack, though the vegetable fennel is a different beast altogether.

Echinacea 'Magnum', Aloysia & Verbena bonariensis   Photo: Scott Weber, July 2012

There are numerous grasses to choose from if you want softness for the garden; my (and Piet’s) top choices are Molinia caerula ssp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’ (Purple Moor Grass) and Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass). Try either alongside Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain.’ Both grasses have an ephemeral, feathery lightness to them that belies their lack of maintenance needs.

Photo: Now. Here. This. TimeOut London, December 2012

And finally, for the softest, most tactile kind of garden, I can think of none more nurturing or inspiring than the gardens of Saihō-ji Temple in Kyoto. Known more commonly as Kokedera, or Moss Temple, the gardens of this 14th-century Buddhist temple incorporate 120 different varieties of moss and have influenced Japnese garden design for centuries. When visiting Kokedera, visitors are asked to observe the rituals of kito and shakyo (chanting and copying of the sutra) before wandering the meandering paths of the moss gardens. Surely this is the model of softness and meditativeness to which the White Tiger would have us aspire?

Saiho-ji Temple moss gardens   Photo: kyoto.cityseekr.com

Crouching Tiger, Verdant Dragon

Friendly, blond and Californian, Linda Lenore is one of the world’s few non-Asian masters of feng shui, the ancient art of how the environment shapes our lives. Certified in a ceremony performed on the Canary Islands, Linda has a background in design, construction and architecture, as well as a lifelong passion for gardening and an innate distrust of tchotchkes. [spotify id="spotify:track:17i5jLpzndlQhbS4SrTd0B" width="300" height="380" /]

Her clean, design-centric and positive approach to feng shui and problem-solving is hugely appealing and practical, particularly in an arena that often seems crowded by fear-mongers. It seems all the more remarkable in light of the fact that she was first drawn to feng shui by health issues in her family and the death of a child, but in her practice she readily shares her experiences of the transformative powers of feng shui. This week I had the good fortune to speak with Linda about implementing feng shui in the garden, and she shares with us here her advice for incorporating the tenets of the Land Form School, which is thousands of years old and in her words, “about common sense.”

Misty mountain, copper pool Photo: Diamond Spas

Land Form School is the original school of feng shui, and it is deals with where to place a building to protect it from the elements while giving it a view. Hills are preferable because a mountaintop is too exposed to wind, meaning “feng,” and the lowlands are too vulnerable to flooding or water, meaning “shui.” Most people don't have any water features outside, but as human beings, having a sense of proximity to water prevails in us as a basic human need. From a landscape perspective, we want to create a sense of being protected from the elements, but we also want to have water around us.

X3 Fountain Photo: Garden-Fountains.com

Water fountain, Upaya Zen Center, New Mexico   Photo: Ottmar Liebert

The traditional Asian way of describing the Land Form School is with the four Celestial Animals – the Black Turtle, Green Dragon, White Tiger and Red Phoenix – who symbolize the elements of the ideal “armchair position.” The original location of a building for the emperor would traditionally have been placed in what was called the Green Dragon Mountain Range. The mountain range stretching from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, filled with redwoods, is a perfectly lush example of the green and verdant energy that we want growing around our houses.

Santa Cruz Mountains  Photo: Santa Cruz Wines

The ideal situation within this mountain range is “armchair position.” Behind the house would be a mountain, to protect it from the cold winds. Originally this would have been in China, where winds come from the Arctic, and so the mountain would have been on the north side of the house. In Northern California, most of the rains originate in Alaska, so we’d want like the mountain to be in the Northwest. In Southern California, the tropical storms come in from the Pacific; you’d want the mountain in the Southwest. Each geographic region is different, and within a region are microclimates – the wind blows in different ways because of small hills. Step outside, and feel how the wind blows at the worst part of the year: which direction is that wind coming from? Ideally, you’d spend a whole year logging the wind and the weather. We’d like to have the mountain behind us, but most of us don’t have the ability to protect ourselves completely from the winds, and that’s where we can start planting shrubs and tall trees – such as cypresses – to protect ourselves from the elements.

House with cypresses, Mystras Photo: Steve Hollier

Behind us is the Mountain Backing, and in terms of the Celestial Animals, the Turtle Backing. Its hard shell protects, and if we don’t have a mountain, we can implement mountain energy in our landscaping by creating a raised flowerbed made of brick, stone or rock. This is the back of the armchair, and we want to use something that has actually come from the earth to represent mountain energy, but the bed itself only needs to be 6 to 8” tall, so if you have a small space, things will still be in proportion. Other options for creating Turtle Backing are large boulders or a statue made of earthen material, but keep in mind that doing one thing is fine – you don’t need all of these elements. The energy of the street is considered the predominant energy, and so if your front door is not on the street side of your house, placement of the Turtle Backing still needs to be positioned opposite to the street. We need the earth energy at the back of the house.

Stone Buddha sculpture Photo: Asian Ceramics Inc

Tall Square Tapered Antiqued Planters  Photo: Asian Ceramics Inc.

The Green Dragon area has masculine, assertive energy. The Dragon greets the new year with fire, burning up the old energy of last year. If you were to sit in your house with the Turtle behind you, the left-hand side of your garden is the Dragon side. The Green Dragon offers protection as well as life energy, and this is where you want something growing all the time. It’s important to have evergreen plants such as conifers, citrus, rhododendrons, azaleas or camellias. Don’t focus too much here on plants with a distinct life cycle, such as bulbs or deciduous fruit trees. I had all my deciduous fruit trees growing on the Dragon side of my house and had nothing evergreen, so we transplanted my lemon trees to keep with the orchard theme but bring in the evergreen plants. As a winter-bearing fruit, citrus is particularly beneficial with prosperity and means we’ll have money coming in all year long. It also has to do with our health and vitality throughout the year. These are the qualities we’re looking for with the Green Dragon energy. The area is also a natural and positive place for a play structure for children, though it’s not mandatory to place it here.

Coniferous garden Photo: frogsonice.com

'Variegated Pink Eureka' lemon tree Photo: Dave's Garden

'Up & Away' Oak And Rope Swing Photo: Not on the High Street

The White Tiger area represents the nurturing, softer, feminine qualities. It sits on the right-hand side of the house if we’re facing the street. A meditation garden, a spiritual icon, a meandering pathway, a secret garden or a shade garden – these all encompass tiger energy. A statue of a feline such as the Los Gatos cats would work, but avoid something as aggressive as a lion here; that’s a more dragon-type energy.

Los Gatos cat statue Photo: City-data.gov

Stepping stones are a good choice in the White Tiger area. In a narrow space between properties, they slow energy and make us look down and be aware of what we’re doing, rather than rushing along a concrete walkway. There aren’t necessarily specific plants we need here, but the qualities of the Tiger are nurturing, so here it’s best to avoid thorny cacti or too many roses. Lambs’ ear (Stachys byzantina) has a soft feel and would be a good choice. The exception to avoiding plants with thorns is a house on a corner lot. If your Tiger side is vulnerable, plant a few roses or thorny shrubs beneath a window so that it’s not easy for someone to climb in without pricking themselves, and we have the DNA to prove they were there! However if a bedroom is here, you don’t want egress in an emergency to be an issue, so instead use a spiritual icon, such as the Buddha, St Francis or the Mother Mary. Anything that makes you feel nurtured is appropriate; lavender has a way of making you feel relaxed and taken care of. We’re looking for what a plant evokes, rather than for what it is; something that brings out the more emotional parts of us.

Legend of Saint Francis 15: Sermon to the Birds, Giotto (c.1297-99)   Photo: JarektuploadBot

The Red Phoenix area is the front of the house, and here we want to attract good. If we remember the armchair, the mountain is behind us for support, with smaller mountains on either side for protection. We’re high enough up to have a view, which allows us to see if someone is coming – enemy or welcome guest. In the real estate community, Red Phoenix energy is called “curb appeal.” Anything and everything in the front that would be construed as positive energy is considered Red Phoenix energy. Red attracts the most attention which is why we have red fire engines. From my house, I can see a number of houses that all tend to blend, except for one that has a bright red truck parked in front of it. So you might paint your front door red, or from a landscape perspective plant red flowers, red bark or red leaves. Using maple trees is a way to harness the Red Phoenix energy from a color perspective.

Photo: Acer palmatum 'Arakawa'

Photo: Aquilegia 'Ruby Port'

Photo: Euonymus alatus

Photo: Heuchera sanguinea 'Leuchtfafer'

Phoenix can also be harnessed by something you might hear – a windchime, running water, or a tree whose leaves rustle when the wind blows.

Gregorian alto wind chimes Photo: Woodstock Chimes

Scent is important too; use lavender, rosemary, citrus or even cocoa mulch. Red is associated with fire but also with light. We need lighting not just by the door but along the walkway, highlighting a tree or statue, within a pond.

Outdoor Moonlight Globe Light Photo: Tréndir

Specifically for the Year of the Snake, which has just begun and is this year the Water Snake, place a water feature in the Southwest or the East this year. And when we’re talking about the Dragon side of the house, remember that the Snake is often called the “Little Dragon,” so anything that’s associated with the Dragon will benefit for the Year of the Snake as well.

Photo: Malaysian river in the form of a Water Dragon

Visit Lindalenore.com to purchase a transcript of Linda's recent seminar on welcoming the Year of the Snake. You will also find there her excellent book 'The Gift of the Red Envelope.' If you live in the Bay Area, you can hear Linda speak at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show on 23 March 2013, at 4 pm.

50 Shades of Black and White

In recent months The Linden Green has been working on an utterly dreamy high-end residential project. The client has the ability, confidence and vision to trust our concept, building and plant suggestions while still maintaining his own voice and point of view. In short, we have a healthy and collaborative design partnership, and creating his exterior space is exciting. His property has the size to incorporate a variety of different landscape elements, which suits me to a tee, as I am nothing if not a maximalist. In my mind I am a purist – minimalist, uncluttered and focused, a disciple of John Pawson perhaps. The actual me is more of a boho/undisciplined/instinctive Id who could never withstand the rigors of Pawson’s discipline. And yet… I am finding in my work my own kind of (totally un-Pawsonian) discipline, and for this project it’s manifesting itself in a very tight color palette. John Pawson interior Photo: WhatMakesUsBlog.blogspot.com, January 2011

Over the expanse of two acres, we're using a palette of purple, claret, cobalt and white, with highlights of sky blue and the palest blush. But at the entrance to the house where things are most manicured and conceptualized – as opposed to the orchard at the fringe of the property, where things are most naturalistic and undesigned – the palette is an even tighter one of monochromatic black and white. Black in a horticultural sense is really very, very, very, very, very dark purple or red, but set against stark white, these non-colors create a field of high contrast that actively resonate against one another. The Stones are talking our language again this week, taking us painting last week’s rainbows black. (As a side note, I fear that followers of the blog may not be getting the Spotify embedded songs within their inbox-delivered posts. This is problematic!  Darling followers, you must hear the songs! Solutions in the works, but in the meantime, check the website for the tracks…)

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Bridget Riley, Fall, 1963 Photo: Tate Collection

In the early 1960s, ‘Op Art’ (short for optical art) exploded onto the art scene and the discerning retinas of critics, curators and collectors. Bridget Riley (b. 1931) was a young British painter whose black and white paintings, such as Fall (1963) shown here, appeared to throb and flicker, tightening and compressing around the curves of their parallel lines. She said of these early works that she ‘wanted the space between the picture plane and the spectator to be active.’

Audrey Hepburn in costume, My Fair Lady, 1963 Photo: Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, Sotheby's

In 1964, Audrey Hepburn delighted audiences in ‘My Fair Lady,’ due in no small part to the help of Cecil Beaton as costume designer. The story is set in the early twentieth century, and Eliza Doolittle famously visits Royal Ascot dressed in a striking black and white ensemble, along with all the other racegoers. The highly stylized scene was inspired by the infamous ‘Black Ascot’ of 1910, in which English society ladies were faced with the conundrum of looking fetching while appropriately mourning Edward VII.

Proenza Schouler F/W 2013 Runway Photo: Moda Operandi

Black and white was a huge Fall/Winter 2013 trend on the most recent runways. Proenza Schouler balanced minimalism and ornamentation with their textural, streamlined collection. Gwyneth Paltrow and Moda Operandi feature it heavily in today’s Goop post. My dear and über-stylish friend Hannah Teare sends reports from Paris of Alexander Wang’s new collection for Balenciaga, calling it ‘pure, clean, simple and gorgeous.’

Photo: Alexander Wang for Balenciaga, F/W 2013

The ultimate multidisciplinary iconoclast in my mind is Anouk Vogel, a Swiss-Dutch landscape architect whose concept-led landscapes can't (and shouldn't) be separated from art. Unlike the longevity of a painting in a museum, a film viewed over decades by successive generations, or even a fashion collection photographed extensively and recorded for posterity, gardens have an innate ephemera to them; one of the primary design factors we consider when creating new landscapes is time. Vogel created an installation for the 18th Chaumont-sur-Loire Garden Festival entitled Du noir de l’eau au blanc du ciel, in which pairs of black and white ‘cousin plants’ were laid out in a meadow gradiated from dark to light and based on the M. C. Escher drawing Sky and Water.

Anouk Vogel, Garden of Escher, Chaumont-sur-Loire Photo: A10.eu

M.C. Escher, Sky and Water I, 1938, woodcut on laid japan paper Photo: National Gallery of Canada

As for my black and white garden leading to the entrance of my client’s house? Well obviously the un-Pawson in me wants all of this somehow incorporated. But restraint is the order of the day here, and as is the point when we’re playing without color, the focus is on texture, form and height. In the shady areas of this garden I’m combining Calla lilies, Lamium ‘White Nancy’, and Japanese painted fern with Ophiopogon planiscapusNigrescens.’ In the sunny areas we’ll mix Geranium phaeum, Iris ‘Ruby Chimes’, ‘Persian Princess’ poppy, Narcissus cantabricus and Nemophila ‘Penny Black.’ And for a maximalist shock of electric brightness that is neither black nor white, I'll add Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’. It is Linden Green after all...

Clockwise from top L: Calla lilies, Lamium 'White Nancy',  Ophiopogon 'Nigrescens', Japanese Painted Fern

Clockwise from L: Geranium phaeum, Iris 'Ruby Chimes', Poppy 'Persian Princess', Narcissus cantabricus, Nemophila 'Penny Black', Choisya ternata 'Sundance'




Red and Gold Is the New Orange and Black

Photo, clockwise from top L: Red chaenomeles blossom; cotoneaster berries; inconvenient traffic light; Ferrari Testarossa; Common Egret; Erik Estrada; Sauvignon Blanc grapes Can you guess what these things have in common? I’ll tell you: I saw each one of them on my Northern Californian drive home today. (Well, sadly not Erik Estrada, but I did see plenty of CA's finest pulling people over for driving 67 mph.) Do you know what else these things have in common? Why, they’re red and gold, of course (Estrada included), just like the subject of today’s post … the San Francisco 49ers.

Young, Montana & Kaepernick

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"But this is a garden design blog!" I hear you exclaim in dismay. And you are right, but this is garden design as inspired by life, and for the next three days, life revolves around one thing only, namely this Sunday's 49er Super Bowl showdown against some weird and inconsequential team from Maryland. (Apologies to my in-laws, if you’re reading. Go ‘Skins!)

This week I'm sharing my tips for a 49er-inspired garden, and before you close your browser, clear your history and delete all cookies, I want to share with you a little story about a Chicago Bears fan who wrote in to Horticulture Magazine asking for tips on orange roses and blue perennials so that she could design her tribute garden to Da’ Bears. I have strong feelings on orange roses at the best of times, and planted in the form of a football helmet is certainly not the best of times. Fear not, gentle readers; this is not that.

Gold miners Photo: buzzient.com

First a quick history lesson; California’s is longer than expected. The name “Forty-Niner” is derived from the Gold Rush of 1849 and was used to describe the legions of gold-hungry men who arrived in the Sierra Nevada foothills ready to find and dig the Mother Lode. Most of the tens of thousands of forty-niners didn’t stay much longer than it took to deplete the gold deposits, but they did leave a trail of ghost towns behind them, which remained untouched for decades. For our purposes today this is of interest because specimens of antique roses now hundreds of years old can still be found growing amid the remains of these old settlements, happily rampant in inland California’s hot, dry rose-friendly climate.

Damask rose Photo: vintagerosery.com

The Damask rose would likely have been planted by Franciscans missionaries in the 1700s.

Harrison's Yellow rose Photo: Mary's Plant Farm

“Harrison’s Yellow,” originally a Scottish rose, likely travelled to the Sierra Nevadas from New York on a covered wagon.

Champneys' Pink Cluster rose Photo: Agel Rosen

‘Champneys’ Pink Cluster’ grows near the site of the Columbia Diggings, 3000 miles from its South Carolina home.

Rosa rubiginosa Photo: Zandhoogte.nl

And lovely Rosa rubiginosa, whose fragrance resides in the leaf rather than the flower, is the same briar rose growing in hedgerows across Britain.

These hardy plants immigrated to California in the mid-1850s, just like the homesick miners whose families sent them cuttings of familiar plants from home. And while the human immigrants faced scurvy, cholera, dehydration, starvation and venereal disease, the roses discovered their ideal climate and to this day continue to thrive, hundreds of years later.

And now for some less maudlin and more contemporary red and gold for your garden. Red tends to be the color of summer, and using it in the garden is not a complicated science. In the heat and glare of midsummer, red holds its own in bright sunshine, and putting it next to purple makes the two colors vibrate off one another and increases their vitality and intensity. Red draws the eye in, so it’s best to use it towards the front of a bed; place purple towards the back, as it draws the eye into the distance and lengthens space.

Photo: Bougainvilea 'San Diego Red'

'Firebird' penstemon

Photo: Tibouchina urvilleana

In a warm climate, I like Bougainvillea ‘San Diego Red’ growing up a bright white wall. Try Firebird penstemon at its feet and set them both off with Tibouchina urvilleana (Princess flower).

Cornus alba 'Sibirica' Photo: Bartels Gartencenter

Lychnis chalcedonia Photo: kerneliv.dk

Lobelia cardinalis 'Queen Victoria' Photo: Crocus.co.uk

In colder climates, try Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ which despite having ‘alba’ in its name, has blood-red twigs and in winter looks mind-blowing against the snow. Cut it back each year, as the new growth is reddest. For midsummer red, though you must give it sun, try Lychnis chalcedonia (Jerusalem cross), whose name evokes noble, if misguided, crusaders embarking on their journeys east. If you have a boggy, moist site, try Lobelia cardinalis; the name kind of says it all about the color, and coupled with its tubular flowers, it’s sure to entice nectar-seeking hummingbirds to your garden.

Photo: Aquilegia vulgaris "Woodside Gold"

Gold plants are essentially yellow plants, and I won’t get into them too much today except for one delicate little woodland perennial (more of a Kendall Hunter than a Frank Gore) who deserves mention. Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Woodside Gold’ grows a dark purple flower on a stem about 20” high, but its foliage is what really sets it off. Ferny and dissected, the leaves are variegated gold and green; imagine them en masse lighting up the forest floor or along its simulacra, a shady woodland garden.

Gilded planters at Emily Joubert Photo: Gardenista.com, December 2012

And conveniently – you see it all comes back to where we began – Woodside is right here in the Bay Area, just south of San Francisco. Gardenista recently showcased these pots available at the divine and eye-wateringly expensive Woodside boutique Emily Joubert. Get the details for the DIY low-rent but equally lovely version on Gardenista or Design Sponge.

BeefEater Gold-Plated BBQ Photo: gizmag.com, May 2007

And finally, what do I recommend for an actual 49er who has a garden? Obviously the BeefEater 24K gold-plated barbeque which, according to the company’s CEO, is “for the man who has everything and wants more.” Because honestly, how good would this look with a Super Bowl ring?

Go Niners!!!

Do or Do Not - There Is No Try

Loyal readers, if any of you are left, it has been a long, long time since I last wrote, and I apologize deeply for the radio silence. A litany of almost biblical proportions has kept me from my keyboard: epic journeys (we flew cross-country), blizzard (it snowed for an hour in DC), plague (my son had a fever), famine (I haven’t had lunch yet). And here comes the full confession: it’s cold and miserable outside, and I don’t want to garden. There – I said it. I. Do. Not. Care. About. Going. Outside. In the words of the noble Yoda, who today graces us with our title, I choose ‘do not.’ So how in good faith can I sit at my desk and tell you, brave and stoic readers, to get out there and dig? [spotify id="spotify:track:3Hkp1WixgTvAYcWs0DARcW" width="300" height="380" /]

And at last it hit me, like the proverbial ton of bricks – NO ONE wants to sweat or work or dig or plant or exert oneself right now. It’s midwinter, and it’s time to withdraw from the fray, curl up with a cup of tea and reflect on the year past and the year to come. From a gardening perspective, this is a vitally important time of year. Without leaves on branches, we can clearly see the structure of our gardens, and thus observe them with clarity. What’s not quite right? What’s actually quite beautiful but spends most of the year covered by a big leafy branch?

Photo: Goldsborough Hall viewed behind frost-encrusted grasses

It’s also a time think back on al fresco fun from the last year. Did you host a summer BBQ and wish you’d had more shade? Would your nightly drink outside after the damn children went to bed (whoops, I’ve said too much) been even better with some sultry evening fragrance floating past? Did you wind up with 1 carrot and 58 tons of tomatoes?

Datura 'Evening Fragrance' Photo: The Cornwallville Gardens

And what about the happy outcomes? My son discovered a lifelong obsession (well, 5 years and counting) with olallieberries thanks to a little vine I’d stuck in the ground three years ago. Hummingbirds discovered a Cigar plant (Cuphea micropetala) outside my kitchen window, and now we get to watch their dive-bombing turf wars while we eat our Wheaties. Small victories and happy accidents, but over the course of the year they added up to little triumphs that made life more enchanting and fun.

Hummingbird and Cuphea micropetala Photo: Russ Thompson, January 2010

“I have a cunning plan.”

– Baldrick, Black Adder 

So let’s make like Baldrick and plan, and I use the first person plural literally, not in the annoying bloggy way that seems so prevalent online. If there’s something you want to add or remove or achieve or change about your exterior space and you have questions or just generally don’t know where to begin, please email me and I’ll cover it in the blog. I’d like to undertake a few case studies in which we tackle landscape issues of a few readers and come up with easy, low-cost, gorgeous solutions. Hit me up at lindsay@thelindengreen.com and you may just be our next Linden Green Case Study.

In the meantime, I want to share some planning I’ve been doing for a client whose big (2-acre) garden is undergoing a huge transformation. He has an untouched and sunny field at the bottom of a steep slope, with a creek behind it and a majestic Coast Live Oak spreading its lovely form above it. We have decided to plant an orchard  - 14 fruit trees with a meadow of poppies and bachelor’s buttons at their feet, and I expect it to be simple, fruitful (literally) and breathtaking. And I mention this because now and over the next few months – depending on where you live – is the perfect time of year to plant bare-root fruit trees.

Peach orchard Photo: theemptynestmom.com, August 29

Bare root trees are dormant and must go into the ground before their growing season begins. This isn’t as horticulturally complicated as it sounds; your nursery will ship to you when they feel the time is right for your climate.

A few of my suggestions:

If you live somewhere warm but not too humid, like California, try:

George IV peach, Photo: Trees of Antiquity

  •  a peach, such as George IV, a white variety grown since 1820 and considered one of the best white-fleshed peaches in cultivation.
If you live somewhere with cold winters and cool summers, such as Maine or England, try:

Cox's Orange Pippin apple Photo: Trees of Antiquity

  • an apple, such as Cox’s Orange Pippin, cultivated since 1830, striped red and yellow, very juicy, and almost spicy in flavor.
If you live somewhere very warm and mild, like LA, Hawaii or Mexico, try:

Avocado tree Photo: Bill Britt

If you live in a city, especially one with a cold winter such as London, New York or Paris, and particularly if you have a small garden or balcony, try:

Violette de Bordeux fig Photo: Trees of Antiquity

  • Violette de Bordeaux fig, which is rich in flavor and does well in containers. This fig is hardier than most, but if your climate is very cold, bring it indoors for winter and enjoy its beautiful structure and any leaves that might remain on the tree.
If you’re a history buff, try:

Bartlett pear Photo: Trees of Antiquity

  • Bartlett pear (also known as Williams Bon Cretien), grown in England since 1700. It has a musky, slightly tart flavor and is delicious eaten fresh or used in cooking. Pear trees can live for many decades and those beautifying the French and English landscapes were planted by farmers in former centuries with foresight, strong arms and gentle souls.

Read more:

Buy more:

  • In the UK, buy fruit trees from Crocus.
  • In the US, use Trees of Antiquity.
  • Or best of all, visit a good, local nursery – categorically NOT B&Q or Home Depot or the like. You want a plantsman who knows what’s good and what works for your area.

And so, young Skywalker, we finish where we began, with Yoda of course. Cold and gloomy winter (and my lackadaisical attitude) is not entirely a case of ‘do not’ but rather ‘do a tiny bit’ and ‘think quite a bit’ and, hopefully come the summer, ‘eat a lot of extremely delicious fruit.’