Lula’s Garden


Four Alberta spruces and a boxwood hedge lead the way from driveway to front door

GOT ME A NEW CAMERA, but it’s not out of the box yet (I’m a little slow to adopt new technology, even when it’s sitting on my dining table). It’s a Canon S95, on the theory that the best camera for a blogger is the one you have with you, and this camera is light.


Meanwhile, stalling for time, I hereby present some shots of 2-3 weeks ago, taken with a loaner camera, of a cottage and garden belonging to my friend Lula here in Springs, Long Island, N.Y.



Lula is a professional garden designer who has worked on spaces both public and private, and she’s been working on her own piece of the planet for half a dozen years. I very much admire its variety, color, and organization.


Curving beds around the edge of the lawn and a garden through the woods, traversed by a stepping-stone path, below, exploit all things shade-tolerant and deer-resistant, including pieris, bleeding hearts, brunnera, ferns, cranesbill, and much more. The red Japanese maple near the house is a show-stopper. As for the rhodies, Lula swears by Deer-Out.



Perennial Bargains

DIGITALIS_MertonensisNOW IS THE TIME to make like a vulture and swoop down on sale perennials. From mid-August on, local nurseries have them for 30-50% off. A smidgen of gardening knowledge goes a long way here; you need confidence to buy things that are long past flowering and may be looking a little tattered.

That’s normal. You’ll be cutting them back anyway, almost to the ground, before winter. Next spring, with their roots well-established, they’ll be raring to go again.

<- Digitalis purpurea ‘Candy Mountain’

Yesterday I popped into Wittendale’s in East Hampton and bought three foxgloves, left (biennials, which put out attractive rosettes of leaves the first year and spectacular flowers the second — next summer, that is). I also got a variegated lirope, below, with yellow-green leaves, to fill in a bare spot in my front garden, and three long-blooming (still blooming, in fact) bleeding hearts, bottom, which I know will do well, as they tolerate both shade and deer. All are big and healthy- looking and attractive as-is. Total: about $35. Would have bought more, but that was all they had of what I could use.


Lirope muscari ‘Silvery Sunproof’

In the next few days, I’ll check out other area nurseries. Perennials need to go into the ground at least six weeks before the first frost of the season, which could be as late as November 10 here on eastern Long Island, so there’s plenty of time as far as the plants are concerned. But I want first pick of the sale items — they’ll go fast, and only get more bedraggled as time goes on.

Dicentra formosa Luxuriant2

Dicentra formosa ‘Luxuriant’

The Barely Bearable Fleetingness of Spring


Magnolia in East Hampton village

THE ONSET OF SPRING, I’ve realized, is kind of like an LSD trip (or so I remember – this goes back a few years). You take the pill, you wait and wait, you’re convinced nothing’s ever gonna happen, and then all of a sudden, all hell breaks loose.

Or as my wasband put it, “Is there a switch somewhere that says, ‘Garden ON’?”


Sheared forsythia

Nothing much was happening around here, flower-wise, until the past week of warm weather. Now it’s going so fast I’m already mourning the turning green of the forsythia, the lavender Exbury azalea in my neighbor’s yard past its peak, the mature magnolias in the village (that would be East Hampton, N.Y.), already dropping their pearlescent petals.


The exbury azalea next door

Spring is the season for exercising the gratitude muscle, for not clinging, not grasping. For appreciating what you’ve got when you’ve got it, and letting go when it’s time.


My best daff

Maybe spring has extra meaning for me this year. I’ve just had a major birthday. I’m now officially a senior, if not according to the Federal government, at least according to the East Hampton Cinema. I can see a movie for $7.50, and save $12/month on my gym membership. All to the good. As my friend Diana said, “You chafe against it at first, but then you want all the discounts you can get.”


Vinca minor (periwinkle)

I had a memorable birthday celebration, below, drinking Prosecco with good friends in the garden on Sunday; then lunch at the Maidstone on Tuesday, and a walk along the beach at Sagaponack in unseasonable warmth.

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Senior in pink

Tomorrow I’m off to Mexico for a week, where I’ll meet my daughter at Rancho La Puerta, the fabulous fitness resort in Baja where I’ve been many times before. One of the chief pleasures of the place is the magnificent landscaping, and I’ll be blogging about that in days to come.


Beach at Sagaponack

But today, I walked around my own modest property, observing. I saw a bleeding heart and some epimedium poking through the soil. The little blue flowers of vinca minor are everywhere, and I see May apples and lily of the valley pushing up. They are gifts – I didn’t put them there. I’ve put very little here so far, in fact, but that will change upon my return from Mexico.


Birthday lunch at the Maidstone

My goal for the next six months is to spend every possible day working in the garden, weather permitting, or even weather not permitting. And to stay in the moment and enjoy it all while it, and I, last.


Sunset over Three Mile Harbor

Winter Drags On…


THE IDES OF MARCH are almost upon us, and what a pain. I’m up in the Hudson Valley now, cat-sitting for a few days, and if ever I thought I was going to do some gardening, which I foolishly did, I’ve had to let go of that notion. The snow was thick on the ground when I got here, and now, after two days of rain, what’s not snow-covered is mushy and boggy and muddy (here’s how it looked this morning, above). True, I did manage to shovel some compost into bags for my garden in East Hampton, and cut down some of last season’s zebra grass before the rains came.


But my hope was to dig and divide some of the cottagey perennials that are here in abundance, all deer-resistant, planted mostly between 2002 and 2006 when I spent a lot of time gardening up here in Zone 5 northern Dutchess. (See one of the beds to be pillaged as it looks in mid-summer, above.) That was, it turns out, a ridiculous hope. With temperatures here in the 40’s recently, I figured the ground would be un-frozen, and I could get some rudbeckia, bee balm, catmint, ladies mantle, coral bells, lamb’s ear, astilbe, bleeding heart, and any number of other things into plastic pots, ready to be transplanted into my newly prepared Zone 7 Long Island garden beds, below, next week.

Waaaaayyyyyy premature. I shall have to sit tight, along with gardeners throughout the Northeast, and wait for the winter to finish up in its own good time.


It’s good to know, however, that the curved beds at the front of my property back in East Hampton — about 400 square feet of them, leading from my new parking court to the front door of my cottage, are pretty much ready to go. Last fall, I laid them out by raking piles of fallen oak leaves into the desired shapes. Through the winter, I woke up more than once in the middle of the night wondering how I was going to turn piles of leaves into plantable soil, quickly.

The answer came in the form of a delivery truck from Whitmores last Wednesday, containing 7 cubic yards of topsoil and compost (cost: about $400). It was shoveled, spread, and raked smooth for me right on top of those leaves, ready to be planted up as soon as the time is right.


I haven’t ordered anything from those tempting catalogues; I don’t have the patience to wait for tiny specimens to grow. I’ll buy shrubs and perennials from wholesale nurseries, and places like Lowe’s and Home Depot, which may not have anything exotic, but in recent years seem to have gotten their act together to at least provide healthy plants. I’ll divide what’s here upstate, beg divisions from other gardeners I know, and take whatever can be spared from the backyard of one of my buildings in Brooklyn, above.

My goal: curb appeal, fast. It’s going to be a happy round robin of plant-moving and schlepping, and I can hardly wait.

GARDEN VOYEUR: Foolproof Plants for Brooklyn Backyards


THIS IS WHERE I cut my gardening teeth: the 21’x35′ backyard on Verandah Place in Cobble Hill where we lived for twenty years, above, as it looked in May/ June.

We inherited a graceful Japanese maple, a stand of honeysuckle (abelia ‘Francis Mason,’ I later learned), and climbing hydrangea that served to disguise a rusted chain-link fence. There were a few slabs of slate on the ground, which we gradually expanded to a good-sized patio, with pieces salvaged from vacant lots in Red Hook and contributions from friends (I remember one summer night being surprised by a delivery of bluestone slabs from a friend who saw them going begging someplace).

We added a small wrought iron balcony and steps going down into the garden from the parlor floor, and had some old-school masons build steps and a landing with bricks and railroad ties — nothing elaborate — leading down to the well area.

Little by little, through trial and error, I learned how to create a garden. The main challenge: excessive shade. Though south-facing, sun was limited by gargantuan ailanthus trees in the neighboring yards.

A couple of the principles that served me well:

  • Use variegated foliage – that is, shade-tolerant plants that don’t flower showily but have green and white foliage to bring light to dark corners of the garden, e.g. ‘striped’ hosta, caladium bulbs, variegated lirope (the festive-looking silver stuff in the left foreground below), vinca and ivy – anything at all that comes ‘variegated.’

Below: The white feathery plumes on the right (there’s a purple one too) are astilbe — shade-tolerant, reliable, ironclad.

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  • Limit color for cohesiveness. I stuck to a palette of blue, purple, pink and white. Very little orange, red or yellow, a situation partially dictated by circumstances; most hot-colored flowers require a lot of sun.

Most satisfying: oak leaf hydrangea along the back line of the property. Three plants (expensive at the time; about $50 each) grew in a couple of years to create three-season glory, with huge, neat, colorful leaves and massive white panicles from June until frost.


See below for more plant suggestions. Any and all of these are recommended for Brooklyn backyards; they’re foolproof and readily available.

Below, left to right: chartreuse andromeda, Japanese fern, ‘money plant’ (those purplish flowers will turn to dry, translucent, coin-like things come fall), the blue spikes of ajuga, all under a climbing hydrangea, soon to flower white.


Below, a deep shade corner, with (left to right) the round glossy leaves of European ginger, Japanese fern, small leaved ivy and small-leaved chartreuse hosta, and yellow-tipped houtonia — pretty, with white flowers, but invasive — you have to be prepared to pull it out where you don’t want it.  The cardboard is from a package of caladiums, to remind me where I planted them (they don’t show up till July).


Below, my favorite afternoon reading spot. Left to right: pink creeping phlox; white ‘starry eyes,’ a sun-loving groundcover; the remainder of some pink bleeding heart (easy, showy, great for shade); small white flowering bulbs (the name escapes me  – anyone?); variegated hosta; blue wood hyacinth in the background.


This last picture, below, is a bit earlier in the season — late April. The hostas are just coming in. The fuchsia azalea was too gaudy for me; I got rid of it. In the foreground, you can see brownish huechera (coral bells), more ‘starry eyes,’ yellow-flowering lamium or dead nettle, and some tiny hybrid tulips on long thin stems — ordered early on from a bulb catalogue, they came back year after year, providing great pleasure.


Mind you, these are all perennials, not annuals. They don’t flower all season, just for a few weeks. But you plant them once and have them for years with no additional effort or expense. Perennials are the way to go if you’ll be staying put for any length of time. You can divide them in spring or fall to create more of the same, and take some with you if you move.