The Big Picture

Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are. ~Alfred Austin

Bench swallowed by hydrangeas, 2013

Bench swallowed by hydrangeas, 2013

I haven’t photographed with a wide angle lens in my garden for many seasons. The crisp circular pattern of paths that originally defined the shape and structure of the garden declined over the years, shifting under the influence of weather, gravity, and life’s unexpected challenges. Last summer’s heavy rainfalls rendered the paths unusable at the lowest point of the garden and moisture loving plants – Hydrangea, daylilies, Lobelia - quickly colonized the rich muck. Perhaps you remember a post from last year, That Particular One, where all of my garden photos focused on the details of flowers, excluding the messy bigger picture.

But this week, the wide angle lens went back onto the camera and I celebrated the renewed structure and shape of the garden on the completion of the rebuilt paths. Determined to reclaim my horticultural territory, I hired a local company, Best Feeds Outdoor Design, to dig out the dirt of the paths, add edging and drainage, and fill with various layers of gravel. Muscular men dug and removed cubic yards of soil and wheeled in barrels of stone in extremely hot and humid weather, a job I had unrealistically expected to accomplish myself until I came to my senses.

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Now, the original shape of the garden I designed from the upper deck looking down has been restored, and not only has the appearance of the garden changed dramatically, it is a pleasure to walk through it.

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Garden and woodland

Since most of my free time is spent in the garden, I often tend to see it as a metaphor for my life and this newest development was no exception. What struck me immediately as I meandered through the paths was how different the garden looked and felt, even though the same plants were in the same place – all the beauty of blossom and leaf remained but were framed in a very different way. Restoring a firm structure made them appear more beautiful than before, like adding a frame to a painting to add definition and draw the eye. What had become a chaotic ramble among lovely plants is now beauty contained in a pleasing form, a balance between strong lines and cascades of color. The wild woodlands surrounding the garden now seem even more mysterious and primeval in contrast to the firm human hand of design and form.

This shift in perception has made me consider the desirability for clearer boundaries in my own artistic life, perhaps finding a better balance between daily structure and creative abandon. I’m beginning to turn a wide angle lens on my life, looking for balance and beauty in the big picture.

Enjoy some images of the restored garden; click on any photo to start the slide show. (All images ©2014 Lynn Emberg Purse).

“A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space — a place not just set apart but reverberant — and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.” ~ Michael Pollen

I Will Be the Gladdest Thing

I will be the gladdest thing under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one. ~Edna St. Vincent Millay

pink foxglovesI touched more than a hundred flowers last weekend, though with my eyes, and I didn’t pick one, except perhaps with my camera. Going to a large flower show in late winter is always a delight for winter weary senses.  Never mind the artificiality of plants forced into early growth and assembled in great halls to mimic a garden – there they are, to be seen and smelled and enjoyed.  I spent a day at the famed Philadelphia Flower Show and my senses are still reeling. It took the better part of the day to see most of the exhibit – this year’s theme was “Brilliant!” – an ode to British gardening style. Any large flower show, in the U.S. at least, is an opportunity for the green industry to strut their artistic stuff – that includes garden designers, florists, plant specialists, and various other vendors. Walk along with me through the show to sample a few of the gardens and flowers.

Living on a wooded lot in which I am trying to expand the native habitat, I was drawn to the naturalistic garden displays. I looked for the treetops in this great hall, which led me to various woodland scenes, complete with small buildings, shade plantings, and open areas filled with flowers. I found myself visiting these displays more than once, especially one that I call the “Greenhouse Garden” created by Hunter Hayes Landscape Design, a specialist in ecological designs.  Frankly, I wanted to move into this place and never leave. (Click on any photo to trigger the photo gallery viewer, click on X to close gallery)

The British garden theme “Brilliant!” was carried out in many exhibits, both in gardens and floral displays. It was interesting to see how Philadelphia area companies interpreted the English garden and floral look.  “The Scorer’s Garden” by J. Downend Landscaping featured a pink and blue cottage style garden full of roses, snapdragons and salvias. “Hidcote Holiday” was a large garden construction by Stoney Bank Nurseries with many lovely components, culminating in a gated garden view that had visitors lining up to take their photos. The floral displays were no less extravagant.  My favorite was “A Proper Hodgepodge” by Robertson’s Flowers that featured “stylistically iconic time periods” ranging from a 1960’s Mod Gala to a lavish Medieval Feast. (visit their blog to see more photos of this spectacular exhibit)

Sometimes it was just about the flowers. The Raymond Evison Clematis display featured his spectacular clematis – I put “Parisienne” on my “must get” list. The Netherlands American Business Association featured Dutch bulbs in colorful combinations and throughout the show, home growers competed for best displays of forced bulbs, including lovely groups of colorful daffodils.

Not only were visitors dazzled by the colors and scents, they were educated as well. Organic Mechanics potting soil display cleverly touted their product while educating consumers on eco-sensitive potting mixtures and the beauty of growing herbs and veggies. The Pennsylvania Horticulture Society featured a spectacular wall of brassicas anchored by a clever wheelbarrow sculpture on one side and a hanging garden of glass birdfeeders and cottage garden flowers on the other. Many schools contributed attractive and educational displays; the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades featured a vegetable kitchen garden based on 18th Century Horticulture practices in America.

I hope you enjoyed visiting the Philadelphia Flower Show 2013 with me.  Think spring!

Facing the Light

Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher. William Wordsworth

As daylily season winds down, I spend each morning removing spent blooms and reflecting on how new blossoms turn towards the light.  When I first began gardening, I was dismayed to find that the daffodils and daylilies I had planted along the paths turned to face the sun but often faced away from garden visitors.  It was like being in a hall before the concert starts and looking at the back of everyone’s head and an empty stage.  It took a while to get the hang of planting flowers with faces in the right spot, often with a sturdy shrub at their backs, so that they turned towards the light and the garden visitor.

I cannot help but see the metaphor of this, of trying to find one’s place in life, preferably with a friend at one’s back, so that it is easier to face the light. As always, the garden teaches me a gentle lesson. Here are a few photos of daylilies and other flowers with faces as the garden nears the end of the July flower extravaganza. Enjoy!

To see more photos of light in nature, visit Carol’s Light Words and Robin’s Life in the Bogs; Kerry has a wonderful series of light filled photos of the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks of Utah in his Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog.  I will be taking a two week vacation from the blogging world; I look forward to catching up in August, the first anniversary of this blog.

All photos ©2012 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved

Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.  Walt Whitman

Beauty for a Day

Hemerocallis or daylily – from the Greek “hemera” (day) and “kalos” (beautiful) translated as “beauty for a day” –  a hardy perennial native to China, Japan, and Korea whose flowers last for only one day

Although I have been deep in multiple projects for the past two weeks, I found time the past few mornings to grab a few photos from the garden.  The intense heat has driven garden bloom from rose season into daylily season.

I love daylilies for their huge variety of color, shape, size and durability. If you are only familiar with the orange roadside dayilies, you may be surprised to find that there are literally thousands of modern hybrids to choose from, often with fanciful names and exotic shapes and patterns.  I love coordinating daylily bloom colors with other flowers and foliage. One of my favorite color beds in the garden is the “grape and lemonade” bed – cool lemons and deep purples, a color scheme inspired by daylily ‘Etched Eyes’ hybridized by Matthew Kaskel.

Here are a few portraits of the early season bloomers. For more information on the wonderful world of daylilies, visit the American Hemerocallis Society.

All images ©2012 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved

Breakfast in the Treetop Bistro

All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.  ~John Gunther (American journalist & author)

This morning was a perfect moment – the air cool but not chilly, the sky a clear blue, and a light breeze bringing the fragrant scents of the garden up to the deck. I celebrated with a long lingering breakfast in the Treetop Bistro, the name for our upper deck.

The two decks along the back facing the woods were a big factor in choosing this house. The upper deck, reached by a spiral staircase, was where I originally planned the garden. The perfect place for morning coffee, it started out as a calm blue and cream place with wicker chairs, a birdbath, and some potted plants, and served its purpose well. 

But then two years ago, with a thunderous crash, a huge old oak fell on the house on a calm windless day, taking out the lower deck, part of the roof, part of the upper deck, and most of the furniture and pots.  Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the garden and decks were a construction zone all summer.

It seemed a good time to rethink the upper deck; I wanted to create a colorful hideaway for a cup of morning coffee or a glass of evening wine. Taking into account the dark brown house and the green wall of treetops, I settled on a mix of rose, coral, orange, gold, and dark red.

 The area rugs are actually woven vinyl, called Mad Mats, an inexpensive but attractive way to create the feel of an outdoor room, easy to hose down all summer and roll up to store for the winter. Brown outdoor paint pulled together a mish mash of furniture, a few pillows were added, and the “bistro” was born.

Not only did I want a certain color scheme that was warm and cheerful, I wanted the feel of a secluded bistro like so many I have visited in France, Italy, and Spain, tucked away in a side street and surrounded by old trees. Hayracks and pots holding flowers, herbs, lettuces, and tomatoes turned it into a lush kitchen garden as well.


The bench invites a quiet moment in the treetops.
Sometimes Angel Eyes takes a nap on the bench.
And breakfast? It was delicious!
Want to see what the plantings will look like by the end of summer?  See a slideshow from last September that includes some photos of the Treetop Bistro’s first season.
I had to delay the video deconstruction of “Breath” until a later date because of work on several projects; next week, I hope to premiere the second part of The Four Elements – “Light”.  Enjoy your weekend!