Category Archives: Gardens to Visit

A Garden Cemetery: Mt. Auburn

Strolling through Mt Auburn Cemetery

As Halloween approaches, our human curiosity regarding death and the afterlife gets played out in various and perhaps even gleeful ways. Macabre decorations adorn our dooways and activities associated with this autumnal celebration fill community calendars: haunted house openings,  pumpkin extravaganzas, cemetery strolls. One cemetery you absolutely must consider if you are so inclined is  Mt Auburn Cemetery, America’s first Garden Cemetery in Watertown/Cambridge (…more details after the images).

A view of the cemetery from one of the hillsides.

Another view.

A formal entrance to a family plot.

A touchingly sad gravemarker.

Another unique grave marker.

Sheath of grain embellishment on an above ground crypt.

An ancient weeping Japanese Pagoda Tree, Styphnolobium japonicum pendula

Paperbark maple, Acer griseum, with its rich exfoliating bark.

Fading yet Verdant

The concept of a garden cemetery came about in 1831, when the citizens of Boston were looking for a practical and aesthetic solution for burying the city?s deceased. The original architects of Mt Auburn Cemetery,  Jacob Bigelow, Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn and Alexander Wadsworth drew their inspiration from the hauntingly beautiful Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, remarkable for its rolling hills, ancient trees, winding paths with distinctive “street” names, magnificent sculptures and elaborate grave markers. They envisioned a beautiful and tranquil setting for families to gather and find peace.

A walk through Mt Auburn Cemetery today assures us that the early founders achieved their goal. The landscape of rolling hills, ponds, sylvan paths and garden artifacts offers a tranquil sanctuary for both the living and the dead. Magnificent trees, labeled as you would expect in any arboretum, dominate the grounds.  Elaborate and exquisite garden statuary is everywhere. Lanes and paths are named after botanical subjects. On any given day you will encounter folks from all generations enjoying this peaceful escape from urban life: birders, young mothers with strollers, and joggers.

Enjoy this visual stroll, and if you live within a reasonable distance,  plan a visit to Mt Auburn Cemetery soon. It is open to the public every day of the year, although the gates close at different times depending on the season.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

You just might be in New England. You might also be interested in gardens, (most likely, if you’re on this website), and stonework, and sculpture. You may also have a child or several in tow and are looking for a fun excursion for adults and kids.  If this sounds like something up your alley, you might want to take a road trip to visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden.

We visited in August, and these were some of the most photogenic subjects:

And there is a whole of a lot more than you see here.


Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Boothbay, ME 04537

207-633-4333 (phone)

207-633-2366 (fax)

Spanish Impressions

The courtyard at Casa del Herrero with various tilework and paving.

The Northeast has many wonderful gardens but the ones that stand out as must see destinations are not built with plants alone. These gardens display structural materials and contours which challenge our formed perspectives in unexpected ways.  It is easy to slip into the parochial mentality of using traditional materials in traditional ways.  The best remedy for this is traveling! Nothing inspires and excites like unfamiliar architecture and a different climate, which imprint their unique personality upon the landscape.  This winter we explored, once again, southern California. Three places stood out, not only for their plants collections and designs, but for their use of decorative stone, tile and brick.

Detail showing band of tiles.

In the community of Montecito, Santa Barbara County, we visited Casa del Herrero.  Situated on a 7 acre trapezoidal site, this Spanish Colonial Revival is center stage to the surrounding gardens. While it is impossible to separate the house from the landscape as a unified whole, there are still individual vignettes and motifs that can find translation in New England gardens.  During our mid winter tour, Kathy remarked that the grounds were wonderful, even without many blossoms. Molly Barker, the executive director replied, ?Our tiles are our flowers?.  Though our cold climate gardens may never have the exquisite tilings of Casa del Herrero, it would take only a few to add flavor and personality to any courtyard or entry garden.

Use of tile as risers in brick steps at Lotusland.

Inlaid pebbles adorn the surface of the platform for this garden orb.

Pebble Mosaic Paving at Lotusland

Ten minutes from Monticeto, is Santa Barbara, home to Lotusland, the estate and garden created by the late Polish opera singer, Madame Ganna Walska.  Married six times to a series of wealthy husbands, Madame obviously never thought enough is enough.  This is equally evident in the gardens, dramatic and lush, living stages set sooo over-the-top that you forget where the bottom is. This stunning, fantastical landscape is another world, which is saying something since, in Santa Barbara, over-the-top is ?whateva!?.  Handsome and playful tile work is seen throughout, but the decorative stonework, constructed of small rounded stones (beach pebbles) set in mortar is spectacular.  This stone integrates well with many other hard surface materials: brick, cement, natural stone, bluestone and schist.

The Blue Iguana that greets you at the Inn.

Patio Paving Combination at the Blue Iguana Inn in Ojai.

Another stop on our tour was the Town of Ojai, CA, which shares a personality similar to Taos, NM.  Each is ripe with creative energy that manifests in house, garden, public and private space, culture and lifestyle.  Throughout southern California, water availability is an ongoing concern and Ojai is no exception.  This is, no doubt, one of the reasons that tiles and decorative stone craft play such an important role in the landscape.  The aesthetic contribution is colorful and constant.  While in Ojai, we stayed at The Blue Iguana Inn.  Here they used beach pebbles in several ways: to create the motif of the reptile, to simulate the shadow of a tree in a sitting area, and as a face on stair risers. As New Englanders we never tire of looking at stone, but finding new ways to use it is essential to expand the New England landscape vernacular.

–Chris Tracey, Avant Gardens

Lotusland: Our midwinter visit

Lotusland. Just pics.Words can’t capture what can only be described as the ultimate fantasy garden in America. The images speak much more eloquently. A reminder of what midwinter is like in southern CA.

The dramatic weeping Euphorbia ingens off Mme. Walska’s residence

One of the Cactus Beds. Note the mountain backdrop, yet we’re within minutes of the Pacific.

The pond view in early February.

Orange Aloe arborescens with the arching flowering stems of Agave attenuata.

Imagine this space in early morning light. OMG!

Epiphyte Ensemble

Year round succulent planter

Barrel Cactus

Late afternoon sun back lighting Cacti.

Imagine the scent of the lemon blossoms

Lotusland is open by appointment only. Please contact the reservation office for dates and times available. A limited number of guests are allowed at one time.

Gardener Portrait: Jill Nooney

I, for one, think gardeners are the most curious people.  Young or old, they never cease to wonder about the natural world around them, and this curiosity infects so many aspects of their lives, especially in the arts: drawing, painting, sculpture, literature, cuisine. Often when asked about when they first became aware of this curiosity, they recount tales of childhood adventures playing in the woods, building dams in streams, making potions from wild berries and seeking out foraged foods.

With this in mind, please meet Jill Nooney:  a gardener, sculptor, and landscape designer, she is one of the most curious plantswomen we know.  And to confirm that she’s a renaissance woman, I might add that she has maintained a private practice of psychotherapy for the past 30 years, to ensure she gets sometime to sit down every week. When I first visited her Bedrock Gardens in Lee, New Hampshire, I was astonished and humbled. This 30 acre property, acquired in 1987, is a collaboration of the vision and hard work of Jill and her husband Bob Munger.  (Jill gets top billing but Bob is the ultimate “man behind the scenes”.) The Gardens (are you ready?) consist of a parterre formal garden with pool, a 3/4 acre wildlife pond with bridge, a 400 foot allée, a pinetum, a rock garden, a 1/2 acre ornamental grass ‘painting’, various fountains and water features, several pergolas and shelters, and the many fantastic sculptures that Jill creates from salvaged farm equipment. There?s more, but I didn’t want to overwhelm you.

a view to the barn at Bedrock Gardens

Jill grew up in a humble 18c farmhouse on 7 wooded acres in what was then rural northern New Jersey. One of her childhood?s clearest memories was an almost religious experience. She found herself lying on earth softly carpeted with fallen petals under an apple and pear tree. At the same time, she realized she was gazing up into branches still laden with the pink and white blossoms.  For Jill, this was a totally magical experience. She was about 10 years old when she remembers creating her first garden. Jill and her mother foraged for plants in the nearby woods and along the roadside. They brought home a collection of birch seedlings, moss and an assortment of rocks that sparkled and these were the ingredients for her first creation.  She remembers planning escapes from everyday chores to visit her little sanctuary, bringing a blanket to lie upon, admire and daydream.

'Odalisque', a sculpture by Jill Nooney

‘Odalisque’, a sculpture by Jill Nooney

Jill likes to make things, and has her whole life: pottery, wood carvings, bookbinding, quilts, drawings. When her own garden turned middle age she began making sculptures to grace the plantings.  Since Bedrock Gardens was originally a working 18c farmstead, the idea of using old farm implements and artifacts to create sculpture was a natural conclusion… from the farm, then back to the garden. Jill scouted for materials and created one a kind pieces which took form as arches, wall pieces, and containers, as well as small and large sculptures, which can be both whimsical and strikingly bold. Many of her pieces are for sale and can be seen at her website

Love the blue tree!

Like most lifelong gardeners, Jill has gone through many plant obsessions: perennials, unusual annuals, dwarf conifers. They all grace beds at Bedrock Gardens.  Her years of experience have steered her away from invasives, and she shies away from plants dependent on staking, use of pesticides and lots of irrigation (hint: this means lower maintenance besides being ecological).  Jill’s adventurous spirit has always been spurred on by her “act now, think later” rationale and this has often allowed her to delight in unexpected results.  So what happens if an impulsive plant purchase turns out to be a space “waster”. Out it goes, or as our mutual plant friend, the talented Gary Koller says, “Plants need to earn their spot.”

So have I piqued your interest about Jill and her garden? You can visit, and you absolutely should. Check out the open garden dates on the Bedrock Garden website


Moon Gate Backdrop for Roses, Perennials and Annuals

Who needs to see another public garden with masses of primary colored annuals and 50 different tea roses? I’d rather be in a garden that is intimate, formed by the signatures of people who love it. This is difficult to achieve in a public space. Blithewold is a unique example of a property open to the public which manages to capture the intimacy of a carefully tended private garden.
Blithewold is a Mansion, Garden and Arboretum in Bristol, RI overlooking Narragansett Bay. The first dwelling on the property was built in 1895 as the summer residence of Augustus and Bessie Van Wickle, and from the very beginning the family began planning stone walls, establishing rare trees and developing gardens. Marjorie Van Wickle Lyons, Augustus and Bessie?s oldest daughter, loved this property immensely, and continued to nurture the gardens until her death in 1976. Fortunately for us all, the current stewards of Blithewold Inc. have continued to care for this property in a tradition that Marjorie would be most pleased with.
This is why we love Roses

This is why we love Roses

As you wander Blithewold’s grounds, you’ll move from one planting to the next, each a testimony to the keen plantswomen and men who tend these gardens. The Rose Garden exudes summertime romance. David Austin roses mingle with both blowsy and supportive perennials, such as Coreopsis ‘Full Moon’ and Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ and annuals such as Nicotiana ?Lime Green? and Salvia ?Indigo Spires?. A stone wall and a classic moon gate serve as a dreamy back drop.
The North Garden, an outdoor room planted in pastel shades, is a popular spot for wedding ceremonies. ‘Limelight’ panicle Hydrangeas, Garden Phlox, Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’ and a blend of annuals surround you, as a double seated Adirondack chair beckons you to pause and gaze out across the great lawn towards the bay. (I hope the gardeners at Blithewold remember to pause occasionally).
You?ll pass through the bosquet (a French term referring to a somewhat formal grove of trees), towards the stand of towering Bamboo, Phyllostachys aureosulcata (yes they know it spreads!) or veer right to the Enclosed Garden with its inviting summerhouse accented with a stand of massive Hydrangea ‘Alpengluhen’. Either path will eventually lead you to the Display Gardens and Greenhouse.
The Display Gardens are where horticulturists Gail Read and Kris Green have fun! In neatly lined out beds go sturdy backbone plants such as Sanguisorba, Agastache ‘Summer Love, Asclepias, tender Phormium and Citrus (over wintered each year in the glass house) as well as a mix of Dahlias they have been collecting for years, and dozens of annuals they start from seed.This summer check out Zinnia ‘Queen Red Lime’, Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ and the various annual grasses. The assortment not only provides a riot of color for garden visitors, but attracts an abundance of butterflies, bees, beneficial insects and hummingbirds. The Display Gardens also provide a wealth of cut flowers for arrangements to grace the mansion?s tables.
Hakonachloa and Hydrangea

Hakonachloa and Hydrangea

There’s more…the Rock and Water Gardens, the working vegetable garden, and the trees, after all Blithewold is an arboretum. There’s a Garden Map on their website, listing all the trees, including a Giant Sequoia. The trees may not demand as much attention in high summer as all the flowering plants do, so you must come back again, in early fall. The trees and shrubs, not to mention the grand finale of herbaceous plants will be painting the landscape in early October. One last chance to experience this garden’s intimacy before the killing frost.
Blithewold is open to visitors mid-April through Columbus Day.
A little Architectural Detail

A little Architectural Detail

A Weekend Away for Garden Photography

Arrangement from the garden

This gardener needed a getaway. So what does she do? She catches a flight to the Philadelphia area and takes in a garden photography workshop at Chanticleer, one of the loveliest gardens on the East Coast. And a garden has to be pretty lovely to draw you outdoors when temperatures top 100 degrees F.

That’s right. The rental car temperature gauge read 95 when I picked it up at the airport on Friday afternoon at about 1:30 p.m. but Chanticleer is 25 minutes inland, and by the time I reached Wayne PA, the temperatures had soared to 108 F. Hot tamales!

Tennis Garden View, Early Morning

Tennis Garden View, Early Morning

Thankfully, our opening session on Friday evening was indoors. The excellent instructor, Allen Rokach, gave us the rundown of what he had planned for us: on both Saturday and Sunday we would meet in the morning by 6 a.m. to catch the early morning light, shoot until 9:30, then take refuge in the air conditioned luxury of the Main House to review and select our images (and fill our tummies with healthy goodies).  A group review would follow with 10 images we each selected for feedback. We’d end the afternoon with scouting for more shots before Chanticleer closed their gates at 5.

Gomphrena 'Fireworks'

Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’

The artistry of Chanticleer’s plantings offered countless photo-ops. What’s always fun for me are the new plant discoveries….this year the one that charmed everyone was the unusually large flowered Gomphrena ‘Fireworks‘,  a tender perennial we can all grow from seed. I also discovered an unusual tropical plant, Mussaenda frondosa, with little orange blossoms and showy white bracts that resemble the green leaves.

Portrait of a Lotus

To briefly summarize what I learned despite the heat’s affect on my memory retention:

1. Just because something is interesting or beautiful, does not mean it is photogenic.

2. Take lots and lots of pictures. Look, and then look some more from other angles. Then, delete what is not good.

3. Observe how light is complimenting (or not!) your image.

4. Skip the midday picture taking. The bright sun washes out too much.

5. Use a tripod! Use a tripod!

6. Have fun using Photoshop.

Bromeliad in bloom

Datura bud

Datura bud

Visiting  Chanticleer is a must! Here’s more info.

Winter Escape to Huntington Gardens

Almost everyone we know is getting weary of winter and shoveling snow. If ever there was a year to retreat to a warmer climate this has been one. We must have had an intuition when we booked flights to San Diego/LA back in December. The first week of February couldn’t come soon enough.

Aloe in Bloom

The weather was perfect….60 degree days with incredible sunshine, 40 degrees nights. There was a light frost in the valleys one night, but signs of an early California spring were everywhere. We had a list of nurseries, greenhouses and gardens to visit, but there was no way we’d be able to get to see them all in a week, so we prioritized. Our first stop was Huntington Gardens just north of LA, and we timed it just right to see the Aloes in bloom. Huntington has an incredible succulent collection, and the size of the specimens along with the colors and textures was breathtaking.


If any one color predominated in the early February landscape, it was coral, which was vividly offset by its opposite on the color wheel, teal blue. The Aloe’s coral red pokers were often seen en masse, like emphatic exclamation points. We got busy snapping photos and jotting down botanical names so that we could fact check/identify some of the unnamed specimens sitting in our greenhouse back home, or perhaps to seek out in one of the nurseries we planned to visit. But enough of this chatter. Pictures tell the story so much better.

Barrel Cactus and Succulents

Barrel Cactus and Succulents

The late winter beauty of the Asian garden was effective because of the well placed structural elements.

Asian Garden

Asian Garden with Chinese Scholar Stones

The Camelias were just passing, and seeing them made us envious…if only we could enjoy them in our winter landscape. An unnamed flowering plum was in full bloom and we took solace in the fact that in a month or two, we would see a similar display in Massachusetts.

Flowering Plum in bloom