Tag Archives: inspiration

Visiting Loomis Creek Nursery & Hudson, New York

I promised I’d write about the rest of our trip to New York state for the Open House days with the Garden Conservancy (see post on Margaret Roach’s garden).  Well, we drove for several hours from Ottawa and arrived at our quaint accommodation called the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York.

This was a really nice place to call home for the long weekend that we were away.  The building is a heritage clapboard construction typical of the town; the place, indoors and out, had been impeccably restored, freshly painted and decorated with comfortable antiques and gently used furniture (and a very good mattress). 

Photo: http://hudsonurbanism.blogspot.com/2010/11/windows-doors-and-fences.html

Our room was right on the first floor, with one window facing the street and the others along the side alleyway:  it was a one bedroom suite with a sitting room that had an exquisite fireplace and lots of books about the history of the Hudson River Valley.

There was room for both of us to stretch out on comfortable chairs after a full day of driving and garden looking; one of us could even go to sleep while the other stayed up and read on the other side of the french doors.

The room was listed as having a Queen bed, but they very graciously exchanged it for a King so both of us girls could have enough space!

And what did I say about the bathroom?  Cute, eh?

There was no kitchen and no real cooking facilities; just some things to make coffee or tea.  But this is not a bad thing because there are plenty of places to eat in Hudson.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, after dinner drinks — they’ve got it all covered.

And gorgeous architecture that is continuously being renovated and revived.  Hudson is a bit of a mecca for the disillusioned New York City art and antique dealer, and is chock full of personality.

So after our trip to Margaret’s garden (see previous post), we headed to Loomis Creek Nursery, the inspired plant provider that she gets to haunt that is about 15 minutes away.  Lucky neighbours!

This place is special:  a really interesting and exotic selection of plants (annuals, perennials, tropicals, shrubs AND trees), gorgeous pots and unique gardening accessories.

Do you recognize the low oval pot?  That’s the one that Margaret uses as a water feature.  I love the tall ones too especially when they’re planted like this with a key architectural plant (a variety of  Taro or Elephant Ear plant — Alocasia sp.).

And lots of beautifully clipped myrtle (Myrtus communis) topiaries:  my favourite.  I first saw them on an old episode of Martha Stewart Living when she visited Allen Haskell at his nursery in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  Mr. Haskell was known as a somewhat crusty but extremely talented nurseryman who, of course, was anything but cranky with Martha.  He was a lover of myrtle and had a vast collection of topiaries that he tended, some for sale and many others for his own enjoyment.  He died in 2004 (his NY Times obituary is here) but the nursery goes on.  I would love to visit it next!

Alas, I couldn’t bring plants home across the border but I did leave with an obelisk —

The same one in the pot to the left of the door …

Reluctantly, we left as it started to rain and ventured back to our place in town.  The following day we adventured out to Kykuit.  That is a story unto itself.  Stay tuned…

Margaret Roach’s Upstate New York Garden

If you’ve been a Martha Stewart Living magazine reader like I have for years or if you’re an active gardening blog reader, then chances are you’ll know the name Margaret Roach.  She worked for MSL for 15 years, first as Gardening Editor and then as Editorial Director.  Today she oversees a very readable and comprehensive gardening blog called A Way to Garden.  Her country garden in Copake Falls, New York, had been her retreat while she worked in Manhattan and it was often featured in the magazine.  When she retired from the magazine in December of 2007, she embraced this home and surrounding land with both arms. 

My friend Patti and I visited her beautiful garden during the Garden Conservancy’s Open House Days two years ago and I thought you’d like to see what we saw during these snowy days.

Walking up the driveway past the garage we’re first greeted by this exhuberant display of flowering violas, pansies and osteospermums, as well as a phormium (New Zealand flax) that would have been overwintered indoors (or in a frost-free spot).  The table to the left is where Margaret’s local plant provider, Loomis Creek Nursery, is selling plants (I see from the website that it’s for sale — eek!  Who wants to own a stunning nursery?).  I’ll give details on our visit to this  nursery in a later post. 

This cluster of pots and ‘stuff’ shows off Margaret’s collection of tender plants (Begonia rex and Clivia), a beautiful Chinese trough pot acting as a water feature and the so-called ‘Wavehill’ chair in chartreuse mimics the golden Hinoki falsecypress peaking in from the right.

You can see from the potted displays that beautiful terracotta pots are common here.  I remember reading that Margaret is a firm believer in continuity when it comes to pots — they must all relate to one another, that way they don’t end up looking like a hodge-podge.  

You can also see that she has excellent colour sense, as evident by the paint treatments on both the house and shed.

Her plantings and planting beds were impeccable; everything was so tidy and well designed.  Margaret would be the first to say how, when she started her garden, she was a novice.  Through her association with the magazine she was lucky to be able to meet and forge friendships with some of the most experienced and influential gardeners in the country, who helped develop her skills with plants and design.  P.S.  The big clay bowl on her porch is usually lined with a blanket making it one of the favourite resting places for her cat!

Margaret once wrote that she considered removing this rhododendron!  Can you imagine?  We’d die in Ottawa for one that grew to be that size.

Everywhere you look you see beautifully designed combinations with big, healthy plants (that’s thanks to her gargantuan compost pile!)

The generous pile is in an area not very visible from the garden, but conveniently right behind the vegetable plot!

The variegated shrub in the mid-ground on the left is a variegated Japanese kerria (Kerra japonica ‘Picta’); it is a suckering shrub with a delicate presence and fairly loud yellow flowers in the early summer.  It’s considered Zone 5 and has been available sporadically at nurseries here in Ottawa.  I grew it several years ago in my protected garden but eventually removed it (before I realized how hard it would be to find it again!) when it got too enthusiastic…

Here is a view of her pond, inhabited by her beloved ‘frog boys’ …

Sorry for the quality of the close-up — do you see him?

Margaret over-winters at least two Japanese maples in pots in her garage; they come out in the spring when they re-sprout their tender leaves and one spends the season on this dry-laid stone wall terrace.

Margaret has several of these stylized Adirondack chairs (known as the ‘Wavehill chair’) around the property.  They can be purchased as kits from the Wavehill Garden gift shop

If you are able to at all, do make plans this summer to visit her garden (and others in the vicinity) during Open Garden days.  You’ll need to send away for their directory, costing $21.95;  this is where you’ll find all the gardens’ names and locations as well as their dates of opening.  Then, when you visit a garden, its only $5.00 admission!

Our trip to upstate New York was filled with more gems.  I’ll post later about our stay in the town of Hudson, our visit to Loomis Creek nursery and our harrowing trek to Kykuit, the Rockefeller Estate overlooking the Hudson River. 

Remembering the Van Dusen Flower & Garden Show

Almost seven years ago Kent and I went to Vancouver to visit my friend Laurel and we all went to the Van Dusen Flower and Garden Show.  Little did we know that early June in Vancouver is, according to Laurel, more like November!  So, it was drizzly and cold — not the right kind of weather to be pleasantly wandering through incredible garden displays … like this one …

I want a truck just like this one to drive around in between clients’ gardens!   I know you’re looking at the delphinium, but did you notice the watering can fountain in the foreground?


I don’t know what this thing was but it was huge (like everything in the tropical rainforest that is British Columbia) and it was encircled with plantings!  It represented all that this garden show was:  larger than life and fancifully, over the top!  Notice the fleece jackets everyone’s wearing…

Look at this (flower)bed with a quilt made of blooming echeverias.  The area around it is fashioned with coreopsis, variegated english ivy and what looks like orange cosmos.   Do you see the pendulous trumpet flowers of datura in behind with Peter Rabbit looking on ?…

This garden looks like its a take on Monet’s garden at Giverny, with its trademark blue walking bridge.  The soft pink flowering spires look like a form of ornamental mullein, maybe Verbascum ‘Helen Johnson’, and the rest of the bed is filled with blue fescue grass (Festuca glauca, possibly ‘Elijah Blue’) and trailing purple verbena.


Lots of purples, powder blues and chartreuse — the colour combination that remains popular years later.  Here you can see purple coral bells, a golden smokebush, purple elephant ears, hosta, grasses and some tender plants (like Alternanthera, Coleus and Canna).

There are some interesting specimens here:  the phormium is the spear-shaped foliage plant behind the hostas, there are some pinky-purple pitcher plant ‘flowers’ hanging down on the right and horsetail in the foreground.

Here was a miniature herb garden with everything neatly labelled; the silver plants are dwarf curry (in the centre), variegated sage (on the right) and pineapple mint (on the left).  This is the kind of thing that can be replicated in a small, sunny garden.  But — beware the mint!  It will soon overtake everything else, even within a short time.

Here’s a living roof with rabbit ears!?

There were also artisans selling their wares like these fountains made from cast and colour tinted Gunnera leaves (giant rhubarb).

And nurseries specializing in unusual and beautiful Japanese maples … grrrr….. ;c)

And show-stopping bonsai!  This one is not for sale; it will be very old and if it was for sale, it would be very expensive.

And a vast array of succulents — these are all hardy and can either be transplanted back into the garden or stay in their winter-proof pots through the winter, if they’re kept in an unheated room, with some protection if the temperatures get too low.  You don’t want the roots to freeze!

Even my friend Jack Willoughby from Anvil Island Design was there!  I carried his amazing steel sculptures in my store.

Laurel tells me that this show is no longer going and that now Vancouverites travel south for the show in Seattle instead (this year its the last week in February).  I’ll have to see how many air miles I have……

Southlands Nursery, Vancouver

In the most unlikely rural neighbourhood that is a stone’s throw from the skyscrapers in downtown Vancouver is a plant nursery that is unlike any other I have visited in Canada, perhaps even North America.  It is called Southlands and it was brought back from the brink by Thomas Hobbs and his partner Brent Beattie in 1991.

This is the kind of display that you’ll see in the parking area as you approach the hand-made display benches constructed by Beattie.  In this beautifully orchestrated arrangement are giant canna lilies and tri-colour phormiums all of which encircle a beautiful terracotta still-life with succulents, like the one below.


One of the things that makes this nursery so special is the interior greenhouse space.  They house an amazing selection of orchids and tender plants, as well as beautiful planters and accessories.

 Displays are impeccably organized, with pots arranged and planted as if they’re a display at the Chelsea flower show.  Indeed, this space does owe much to the British tradition of gardening and plant display.  Many of the planters and ornamental terracotta are from Whichford Pottery in the UK (someone should talk to them about their website; Thomas?)

Here the planters are filled with Tillandsia, known as airplants, a tender plant that doesn’t require soil because it is an epiphyte and takes its nutrients through the octopus-like foliage when it rains (much like orchids and bromeliads), rather than from the earth. 

 This display of bromeliads, tillandsias and impatiens in lead-grey planters is colour genius.

Arrangements of succulents in never-ending shades of grey, silver, blue and purple-black is a favourite.  These jewel-like displays fore-shadow the publication of Hobbs’ books, Shocking Beauty and The Jewel Box Garden  in 2004 and 2005, respectively.

Thomas Hobbs has been somewhat inspirational to me;  I had his displays in my mind’s eye when I arranged many of the much smaller vignettes in my store:

The counter area where your purchases get gift-wrapped is perhaps the most impressive I’ve seen!

But one of the most inspirational things about Thomas Hobbs is perhaps his advocacy.  In 2009 he put his money where his mouth was and taped a television piece on the imminent closing of the Bloedel Conservatory in Vancouver.  When the network showed a reluctance to televise it, he threatened to walk if they didn’t.  They didn’t and he did.  Bravo! 

In the end, the landmark was saved, due in no small part to Hobbs’ own voice and his ability to generate public concern and outrage.  Go here to his blog to read the whole story.

Maybe my friend Laurel in Vancouver will be able to give us an update on both the nursery and the Conservatory.

Welcoming genius rather than being one

I came across this video on Margaret Roach’s website here of Elizabeth Gilbert’s (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) talk on nurturing creativity and allowing ‘genius’.  I thought it was incredibly well-crafted and beautifully delivered.   And speaks to all of us who seek originality in our craft, whatever form it might take.

For more musings on creativity and other subjects, go to the Ted website, where you can see ‘riveting talks by remarkable people.’

Where did my inspiration come from?

Years ago, I stood in the Japanese strolling garden at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, and realized that I wanted to pursue horticulture. 

My background had been in the visual arts so perhaps it was not so surprising that I would shift to another form of visual expression.  But garden design is so much more than that because it is a living and shifting art.  Plus it is linked to the natural world in a mysterious way. 

Since it was so long ago I have no images to share with you but the effect was immediate.  Unlike the rest of Butchart Garden, where colour and manicured shape is celebrated, the Japanese garden appeared entirely natural.  Of course I know now it was not; the expansive moss carpet, the impeccably pruned trees, the carefully placed stepping stones and the views — all of these were unquestionably contrived yet still seemed effortless. 

As a result, the visitor becomes instantly relaxed.  In those early days, I wasn’t aware of the vision, planning, hard work and regular maintenance this garden required.  But, of course, that’s surely the point.  I was smitten.


This picture is perhaps the best approximation of my experience then.  It was taken some years later at the UBC Botanic Garden in Vancouver, but shows the dichotomy between nature and design.  How far does one overlap the other?  And what ends up being serendipity? 

From then on, I knew I wanted to be around environments like these and the plants that belonged in them.  I wanted to make gardens, especially if they could end up looking like this one!