Fall Planting Ideas From Maryland’s Brookside Gardens


Brookside Gardens is a gem of a garden tucked away amidst the sprawling neighborhoods of Maryland’s Montgomery County. Covering nearly 50 acres, it features rolling hills, sculpted ponds, woodlands and formal gardens filled with hundreds of varieties of plants. It’s my go-to destination when I’m looking for new ideas for plants and plant combinations.

The great thing about the gardens is that there’s always so much to discover. There are forests filled with native trees and shade-loving shrubs and perennials. There are specialty gardens that showcase many varieties of just one plant. There’s a fragrance garden, a winter garden, a rain garden and a terraced formal garden. And there’s even a secluded Japanese garden perched high on a hill with its very own wooden pagoda.


All in all, there’s enough plant life to keep a visitor occupied for hours.


An example of great bark, Platanus occidentalis (Sycamore)

And, now that summer has ended, the gardens have shifted once again to reflect the change in the seasons. This fall, the talented staff at Brookside Gardens has packed the gardens with plants and plant combinations that literally shine under the September and October sun. That means there is plenty of vivid color to match fall’s signature hues: bright reds, magentas, oranges, deep yellows and purple. Following are some standouts.




This hot-colored border, composed of Salvia ‘Sparkler Red’ and red canna lilies isn’t for everyone, but it sure makes a statement outside of the Visitor’s Center. The large, paddle-shaped leaves of the canna created an interesting wave effect within the salvia, while purple-leaved annuals ground the entire composition.


The leaves of these vivid purple flowers, called Colchicums, emerge in early spring and die back by early summer. The crocus-like flowers appear in late summer or early fall.


The arching flowers of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ provide a beautiful contrast with the rounded forms of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy.’


Alongside a woodland path, the bright green leafless stems and brilliant red flowers of the Spider-lily, Lycoris radiata, glint in the sun while playing with the shadows.


While in the sun border, the rosy-pink pompoms of Globe-amaranth, Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ set up contrasts with mounds of Zinnia elegans ‘Giant Cactus Mix.’


These bright pink zinnias shine against the giant green leaves of a banana tree.


In this corner of one of the formal gardens, the lavender blooms of Lespedeza bicolor ‘Yakushima’ are combined with the soft pink flowers of Maiden Grass, dusty-red Sedums, violet Obedient Plant and star-shaped blue Bellflowers.


This wonderful fall-blooming Heuchera villosa ‘Autumn Bride’ looks great atop a bed of withered leaves.



While in the Rose Garden, the bright green swords of yucca set up a nice contrast with the delicate grey-blue spires of Russian Sage, Perovskia atriplicifolia.


Less colorful, but just as beautiful is this subtle composition of Ostrich ferns, Hellebores, Hostas and Torenia fournieri, ‘Catalina Grape-o-licious.’


The gardens are open daily from 9 am to 5 pm and are free to the public. For more information on Brookside Gardens and upcoming events on the grounds, click here for the website.



America’s 10 Best Places to See Spectacular Fall Foliage


Fall foliage is beautiful all over the world, but let’s face it, there are some places that are more beautiful than others. These special landscapes produce exceptional shades of scarlet, crimson, orange and buttery yellow that capture the essence of the storybook fall. I, for one, am always in search of that kind of experience.

The good news for travelers is that, according to the United States Forest Service, lots of spring rains and a really dry summer mean that this year in North America could be even more colorful than ever. If you’re thinking of planning a weekend away to do some “leaf peeping”, now is the perfect time to reserve, with many places still available.

Here’s a guide to 10 popular locations in the United States that are known for their exceptional fall foliage. I’ve included luxury and budget stay options with links to fit every pocketbook.


The Berkshires, Massachusetts

Located in the western parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Berkshires is a highland plateau encompassing a little over 2,000 square miles. Bordered on the west by the Taconic Mountains and Housatonic River, it is interwoven with narrow country roads that coil their way through acres of pristine forest. Along with a wealth of picturesque, small towns offering local arts, culture and cider and donuts (!!), the area is deeply-forested with red maples, which adopt brilliant shades of crimson, scarlet and orange in mid to late September.

Berkshire Mountains

Berkshire Mountains

In northern Berkshire County, one of the most popular driving routes for foliage enthusiasts is the Mohawk Trail, which climbs through the Berkshire Mountains, providing jaw-dropping views of the region’s scarlet oaks and fiery maples. Quarry Road is another 60-mile loop that is accessed via the Mount Greylock Visitors Center in Lanesborough. Climbing steeply over gravel and rocks, the road leads up the mountain to spectacular views of the higher-elevation sugar maples, which turn from yellow to orange and finally to red in the fall.

Luxury Stay: Blantyre     Budget Stay: The Black Swan Inn


Litchfield Hills, Connecticut

Located at the base of the Berkshire Mountains, Litchfield Hills was named by National Geographic as one of the most scenic driving destinations in the country where it comes to fall foliage viewing. It’s the type of place you associate with traditional New England landscapes; winding country roads, small historic towns filled with antique shops, and old-style taverns and beautiful stone and clapboard houses.

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Red barn in Litchfield Hills, Connecticut

A popular driving tour begins on Route 7 and follows the Housatonic River, passing through Milford and on to Kent, which was awarded the #1 Fall Foliage Town in New England by Yankee Magazine. Giant sugar maples and massive oaks interspersed with birches, beeches and aspens put on a vibrant show beginning mid October and lasting into November. Connecticut has one of the longest foliage viewing seasons compared to its northern New England neighbors due to its more temperate climate.

Luxury Stay: Winvian Farm     Budget Stay: Litchfield Inn


Asheville, North Carolina

Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Asheville offers panoramic views of spectacular fall foliage as well as a thriving artists’ community and burgeoning restaurant and beer scene. Peak foliage viewing is a little later here, usually from mid to late October.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, which is a short 50-mile drive from Asheville, puts on one of the longest fall foliage displays in the country. The kaleidoscope of color includes golden yellow poplar and hickory trees, orange sassafras and multi-toned red maples. The show begins at the highest elevations (roughly 5,000 feet) and works its way down the mountains gradually, providing weeks of sequential color.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway

According to the Romantic Asheville Website, which gives week-by-week coverage of the foliage as it develops, a drier than usual summer promises that this year’s show will be brighter than usual.

Luxury Stay: Inn on Biltmore Estate     Budget Stay: Hampton Inn Asheville I-26 Biltmore Area


Green Mountain Byway, Vermont

Late September through October, this 11-mile stretch of Vermont’s Route 100 lined with maple, birch, poplar and sumac trees explodes with brilliant autumn color. The scenic byway runs between the northern Green Mountains to the west and the peaks of the Worcester Range to the east, between the towns of Waterbury and Stowe. A leisurely drive northwards along the route provides stunning views of intensely colored forests and saffron meadows while looping through tiny, historic villages and farmsteads.

Stowe Community Church, Stowe, Vermoint

Stowe Community Church, Stowe, Vermoint

A classic New England village located at the base of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield, Stowe calls itself “Fall’s Color Capital” and for good reason. In the fall, sparkling shades of gold, orange, crimson and maroon bedeck the town. An easy drive up the Mount Mansfield Auto Toll Road, offers stunning views of the area’s vibrant hues, silhouetted against a purple mountain backdrop. Check out Go Stowe/Foliage Central for regular foliage reports.

Luxury Stay: Essex Resort and Spa     Budget Stay: Northern Lights Lodge (Stowe)


Aspen Colorado

Colorado’s aspen trees are unlike any others, and in the fall they put on a vivid display. Leaves shimmering with gold in the sun, their stark white trunks paint a striking picture against the evergreen backdrop of the region’s jagged brown mountains. Peak foliage can be hard to predict, and is often short-lived, so it’s important to get your timing right.

Aspen, Colorado

Aspen, Colorado

The highly photographed Maroon Bells Mountains, situated southwest of Aspen, are a great spot from which to soak up all the colorful scenery. Stay in town (where hotel rates are briefly less expensive before the start of ski season) or reserve a campsite on the Maroon Lake, encircled by snow-capped purple mountains and oceans of golden-yellow aspens.

Luxury Stay: The Little Nell     Budget Stay: Sky Hotel


Taos, New Mexico

Another popular destination from which to view the changing foliage of the aspen trees, Taos offers thousands of acres of pristine forests ablaze with fall color. Here, in the dry climate of the high desert, warm days and cold nights mean that aspens turn not only yellow, but deep orange and shades of red as well. This makes Taos a must-see for aspen aficionados.

Green, yellow and red aspens on a hillside in Taos, New Mexico

Green, yellow and red aspens on a hillside in Taos, New Mexico

The 83-mile Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, which starts and ends in Taos, encircles the 13,161-foot Wheeler Peak, the tallest mountain in New Mexico. The scenic route winds through a diverse landscape of red cottonwood forests set amidst grey-green spruces, dark green lakes rimmed by orange and yellow aspens and mesas clothed in deep purple cinquefoil that stretch all the way to the visible horizon.

Luxury Stay: El Monte Sagrado     Budget Stay: Sun God Lodge


Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina and Tennessee

Hundreds of species of native trees, including scarlet oaks, sugar maples, sweet gums and hickories change color from early October through early November in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is nestled between North Carolina and Tennessee. The transition occurs gradually over the 800 miles of scenic roads and trails, traveling steadily down the mountainsides and transforming the region’s forests into radiant shades of red, orange, purple and gold.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

You could spend days in the park, exploring the breathtaking scenery, which begins early with the arrival of fall flowers, including asters, Joe-Pye weed and goldenrod. Check out the National Park Service site for up-to-the-minute information and webcam coverage of the foliage as it develops.

Luxury Stay: Blackberry Farm (TN)     Budget Stay: Holiday Inn Club Vacations Gatlinburg-Smoky Mountain Resort 


Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Over 7 million acres of forest make for a brilliant splash from late September into mid October on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which includes the Porcupine Mountains, Traverse City, the Boyne Highlands and Mackinac Island. In these lovely places, the arrival of autumn ignites an explosion of autumn color amongst the native hardwoods, all set against a backdrop of dark green spruces, pines, cedars and other conifers.

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Upper Peninsula, Michigan

At the end of September, dense groves of aspens, birches, maples, oaks, elms, hickories and black cherries gradually begin to transform the landscape into a multi-colored quilt of crimson, russet, golden yellow, purple and orange. M-119’s Tunnel of Trees, located about 35 miles from Mackinac Island, is one of the great forest routes in North America. Separating Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas, the 16-mile scenic road winds through thick hardwood forests, offering glimpses of Lake Michigan and affording access to lots of hiking trails among the majestic trees. Or, you can choose from one of 10 driving tours of the region available on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula travel site.

Luxury Stay: Hotel Iroquois     Budget Stay: Harbour View Inn


The Catskills, New York

Perhaps the most well known destination of all, upstate New York’s brilliant autumn show has been immortalized in films and literature for its iconic shades of dazzling scarlet, orange and gold that unravel slowly down the region’s deeply-forested hillsides. Highway 97, which connects Hancock to the tiny town of Port Jervis, is one of the most popular driving tours, affording stunning vistas from mid September to early to mid-October.

Saranac Lake, New York

Saranac Lake, New York

Nicknamed “America’s First Wilderness,” this beautiful area is home to majestic oaks, sugar maples, white-trunked birches and beeches. The area is chock full of small towns and B&Bs, antiques stores, farmers markets and harvest festivals. There are even pick-your-own apple orchards, making for a storybook-like adventure.

Luxury Stay: The Point Resort     Budget Stay: Best Western Mountain Lake Inn


McKenzie Scenic Pass, Oregon

In mid-October, this 36-mile route through the Mt. Washington Wilderness area (also known as Highway 242) is ablaze in color. The varied landscape includes ancient lava beds, waterfalls, snow capped peaks and majestic old-growth forests. The pass runs from the Willamette Valley to the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains, winding through the university town of Eugene.

McKenzie Pass, Oregon

McKenzie Pass, Oregon

Near the top of the pass, lush groves of Douglas fir and red cedar provide a backdrop for deep red vine maples, a species of small maples native to western North America. Together with the black rock lava fields and stark white peaks of central Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, they provide a stunning contrast. The Dee Wright Observatory, built in the ’30s out of lava rock, offers spectacular 360 views of the mountains and changing foliage through windows specially designed to frame the peaks.

Luxury Stay: The Lodge at Suttle Lake    Budget Stay: Best Western Ponderosa Lodge


All photos: Shutterstock.com

Longwood Gardens’ Nightscape Delivers A Mind-Bending Experience

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Giant cacti illuminated by LED lights in Longwood’s xeriscape garden

If you’ve been reading my blog over the past couple years, you already know that I’m a huge fan of Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The 1000+-acre property of gardens filled with specialty trees, shrubs and flowers never fails to move me, no matter what the season. And now Longwood has added yet another way for visitors to appreciate its extraordinary beauty. It’s called Nightscape.


View of the Conservatory lit up for Nightscape

Billed as an ‘ immersive nighttime adventure’, Nightscape is a multi-sensory experience featuring moving images, lights and original music. The action gets going in the gardens just after dark when LED lights suddenly transform the giant property into a technicolor dreamscape. As visitors move through the Conservatory and outdoor gardens, the lights continually change form around them, presenting a kaleidoscope of varying colors and patterns.

Nightscape takes place across seven locations around the gardens, including the main lake, the Flower Garden Walk, the Topiary Garden and the grand rooms of the indoor Conservatory.

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LED lights transform the Palm House into a magical kingdom

The display is accompanied by original music composed especially for the display. The ethereal melodies float through the gardens, adding an otherworldly dimension and heightening the experience.

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A giant grass takes on a new personae

It’s quite a thing to walk through the Conservatory at night with all the colors changing around you. As the lights move across the plants, they highlight parts of the garden while obscuring others. The reflection of the tree branches in the windows of this part of the installation made it seem like a wild storm was brewing.

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At other times the lights form patterns steeped in symbolism that cause you to pause and reflect.

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Outdoors in the Topiary Garden, the clipped forms of giant boxwood are enhanced with colorful, whirling patterns. To my eye, the shrubs looked like spinning tops.

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But a few seconds later, the same bushes switched to black and white, conveying an entirely different feeling.


The Rose Arbor, adjacent to the Flower Walk, features a wild assortment of oversized plants and shrubs illuminated in neon colors. The garden changes shape as the lights move around it revealing crazy daisy-shaped blooms and glowing rocks.

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On the far side of the Rose Arbor, the Flower Walk, which directs visitors deeper into the garden, takes on heightened dimensions with its stripy lights; almost as if there was a stadium full of people above you.


My daughter took a video of the Flower Walk. I think you’ll get the idea.

The show was created by Klip Collective, an experiential art shop that specializes in integrating projection lighting and technology with storytelling to create compelling experiences.

Nightscape runs now through October 29, 2016, rain or shine. The display stays open until 11 pm. Ideal viewing times are after 8 pm in September and 7 pm in October.


Mixing Things Up In Seattle’s Chihuly Garden and Glass

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Over the past few years, an unusual kind of garden has been slowly taking root at the base of Seattle’s Space Needle. Composed of an eye-opening mix of plants and avant-garde glass sculptures, it was designed by famed artist and Washington native, Dale Chihuly. The vivid artworks both complement and contrast with their natural backdrop, offering a bright new lens into the role light and color play in the garden.


The garden is called Chihuly Garden and Glass and it’s the largest Chihuly exhibit in the world. Built on the grounds of a former amusement park, the 1.5-acre space includes nine indoor galleries, a giant Glass House and a series of dynamic, glass-embellished gardens. It also features Chihuly’s largest sculpture to date, a 4,500 square foot suspended floral ‘chandelier.’


In case you haven’t heard of Chihuly, he is world-renowned for his fantastic glass sculptures which range from full-scale architectural installations to individual one-of-a-kind bowls. His works can now be found in over 200 museums worldwide and his reputation, like his dramatic artwork, only continues to grow.


Chihuly’s particular fascination with glass houses (and plants) began decades ago and has inspired him to develop a series of exhibitions he refers to as his Garden Cycle. He has created plant-themed installations for gardens including the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Denver Botanic Garden, the Young Museum in San Francisco and the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, to name just a few.

Dale Chihuly’s artwork has a beautiful organic quality to it, and the glass is colored with brilliant hues that contrast with plants in a spectacular way,” Atlanta Botanical Garden President and CEO Mary Pat Matheson told The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Chihuly Garden and Glass broke ground in August 2011. Artworks were installed first in the gardens, followed by the Exhibition Hall and Glass House. The space is intended to function as a community gathering place and includes an outdoor café encircled by flowering vines.


The individual gardens were designed by Chihuly and the Seattle-based landscape architecture firm AHBL. They are anchored by four large glass sculptures and include winding paths lined with specialty trees, unusual shrubs and thousands of flowers.



Directly behind the Glass House is Garden # 1, a large, mounded circular space crowned by a brilliant Chihuly sculpture. Gold, with fiery red rays, the sun-like sphere sits atop a dusky-brown bed of New Zealand flax ringed by dwarf Japanese pittosporum.



Running along the back side of the garden, Garden #2 is a study in blues and pinks. Chihuly’s brilliant cerulean glass reeds rise up from amidst a sea of purple top verbena, blue gentian sage, tiny tuff stuff hydrangea, dwarf bear breeches and icy white carpet roses.



Garden #3 continues the blue theme with cobalt blue reeds and the introduction of serpentine blue glass sculptures and green and blue glass spheres. The various shapes are placed within beds of soft purple primula, white ranunculus, gray-blue sea holly and creamy-white dwarf bear’s breeches. Delicate Japanese maples echo the vertical forms of the brilliantly-colored sculptures.



Garden #4 is a cheerful orange and yellow composition of Japanese sweet flag, Japanese gold-leaved forest grass, giant may apple, and an assortment of ferns punctuated by the deep red trunks of paperbark maples. Chihuly’s orange glass balls and eel-like shapes point the way to a large yellow-green ‘conifer’ in the distance.


Gardens # 5 and #7 feature this dynamic red glass sculpture, reminiscent of the snow plant, Sarcodes sanguinea (see below.) It is silhouetted against a firm green backdrop of weeping Alaskan cedars, fothergilla gardenii, redtwig dogwood and Japanese witch hazels. At its base are soft pink corydalis ‘Beth Evans.’


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Garden #6 features an even larger glass sculpture composed of a pile of wine-colored glass cubes. It perches high atop a bed of Japanese mahonia, double-file viburnum and privet honeysuckle, silhouetted on one side by the Glass House and on the other by Seattle’s iconic Space Needle.



For more information on Chihuly Garden and Glass, its gardens and hours of operation, click here for the website.

Kicking Back In Seattle’s Lovely Kubota Garden


Covering over 20 acres of rolling hills and valleys, Kubota Garden is a quiet refuge amidst the bustling city of Seattle. The garden is a magical blend of what might at first glance seem to be contradictions; that is, Japanese garden concepts and native Pacific Northwest plants. Somehow it all works, though, and the garden unfolds in a progression of spaces to reveal streams, waterfalls, ponds and dramatic rock outcroppings, all embellished with a rich assortment of specimen trees and plants.

If you’re looking to reconnect with nature, this place is for you.


The garden is the legacy of Fugitaro Kubota, who emigrated to the United States in 1907 from the Japanese island of Shikoku. As a young man in America, he discovered a hidden passion for gardening and in 1923, he established his own nursery and landscaping firm called the Kubota Gardening Company.

Entirely self-taught as a gardener, Kubota began his first garden in 1927 with the purchase of five acres of logged-off swampland in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle. His initial intent was to use the land as a nursery for the native plants he sold to his customers. But as the years passed and his nursery stock grew in size, he began experimenting with ways to showcase the plants themselves in a garden-like setting.


Kubota began to dream of one day creating a garden that would display the rich diversity of Pacific Northwest plants in an intimate, multi-layered Japanese setting. To gain expertise, he returned to Japan a number of times to study traditional gardening techniques. As his business grew, the Rainier Beach garden grew as well, eventually expanding to encompass 20 acres.


Over time, Kubota began introducing Japanese-inspired streams and ponds to his Seattle garden, enclosing them within high hedges of native cypress, spruce and hemlock. He positioned specimen blue spruces, white pines and weeping hemlocks amidst broad swathes of indigenous hydrangeas, viburnums, and rhododendrons. To his garden’s winding paths, he added low masses of indigenous azalea, cotoneaster and flowering perennials that, just like in Japanese gardens, functioned to both reveal and conceal the view.


In the 1960s, Kubota brought in 400 tons of stones to create a ‘Mountainside’ featuring waterfalls, reflecting pools and mature specimen trees.  He also introduced traditional Japanese garden ornaments into the garden, such as lanterns, bells and bridges.




In Japanese gardens, bridges symbolize a journey from one world to another

Eventually, Kubota’s garden came to serve as a home, nursery and business location for the entire Kubota family. As their Japanese-American style garden grew in popularity, the family regularly opened it to the public. By the 1950s, Kubota Garden had become a center of social and cultural activities for Seattle’s Japanese community.


In 1972, Kubota was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Japanese Government “for his achievements in his adopted country, for introducing and building respect for Japanese gardening in this area.” Kubota died in 1973 with the hope that one day his garden would help increase American understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture.

In 1987, the City of Seattle bought the garden from the Kubota family, and it is now maintained by the Department of Parks and Recreation as well as volunteers from the Kubota Garden Foundation.



Visitors begin their tour of Kubota Garden by passing through a traditional Japanese entrance gate. Imbued with deep, symbolic meaning, the gate functions simultaneously as a screen and a threshold, offering tantalizing hints of the garden beyond.


A large bronze bell is located to the right of the walkway.

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To the left, a broad path winds uphill to a Japanese pagoda. The walkway climbs through masses of azaleas, dogwoods, rhododendrons, irises and thousands of specimen evergreens and Japanese maples.


Path leading uphill to the overlook and pagoda

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A small sampling of the diverse number of evergreens at Kubota Garden

Directly behind the pagoda, at the highest point of the garden, a green lawn fans out towards a backdrop of large evergreen trees. The expansive area is framed by generous groupings of hydrangeas, viburnums and azaleas interspersed with flowering perennials.


Right side of lawn behind pagoda


Left side of lawn behind pagoda

From the pagoda, a series of serpentine paths lead back down the hill into different sections of the garden. The garden spaces, which vary greatly in character, are all carefully maintained to look as natural as possible, in keeping with Japanese gardening principles.



Kubota Garden is at heart a Japanese garden; albeit composed entirely of native Pacific Northwest plants. And, in Japanese gardens, water is a fundamental component. Flowing streams, waterfalls and ponds are all common features in Kubota Garden. This quiet pond inspires reflection, framed as it is by the colorful and multi-textured evergreens planted along its borders.


This natural-looking waterfall cascades over a ‘mountainside’ composed of large rocks.

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There is also a healthy respect for mass and proportion at Kubota Garden, both in the arrangement of plant materials and the placement of garden structures and ornaments. All these elements contribute to a sense of balance and harmony in the garden, in keeping with Japanese principles. This pair of simple stone bridges, while slightly different in design, are united by their diminutive scale and proportion, a perfect complement to the small pond they traverse.


In Japanese gardens, ponds can represent lakes and rocks can represent whole mountains. In Kubota Garden, stones (or are they mountains?) carry deep symbolism as they point the way through the garden.


To a Western eye, the ‘emptiness’ of a Japanese garden can prove unsettling. However, it is a key element in Japanese landscape design. This striking space, reached through a small opening in a hedge, makes use of empty space to show how nothing defines something.


These spaces, and many more, are all free to the public. For more information on Kubota Gardens, click here for the official website.


Garden Visit: The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Healing Herb Garden


A stroll through the secluded campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland is an otherworldly experience. First, there’s the security, then there are the imposing, mainly windowless limestone buildings towering hundreds of feet in the air. I stopped by NIH late last week to visit a little known but remarkable garden. Located directly across the parking lot from the world’s largest biomedical library, it is the National Library of Medicine’s own herb garden.

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) Herb Garden was established in 1976 as part of NIH’s Bicentennial celebration. Initially composed of low borders of boxwood, lavender and thyme, the garden has since grown to include over 100 flowering herbs. Meticulously arranged in symmetrical rows and beds, the plants bear silent testament to the healing power of nature and the integral role it has played in the development of modern medicine.


The first thing you notice upon entering the space is a large Indian totem pole located at the far end of the garden. A part of the NLM’s new Native Voices exhibit, it was carved by Jewell Praying Wolf James of the Lummi Nation from western red cedar found in Washington State. The totem, which symbolizes and promotes good health and healing, is the main focal point of the garden . Its colors also have deep meaning.


Flanking the totem pole are two ‘story-telling’ benches, also carved from western red cedar. The bench on the right side of the totem depicts the Salish traditional story of the Bear and the Steelhead, which teaches respect for nature and the natural cycles of life.


NLM Native American sculpture ‘The Bear and the Steelhead’

The bench on the left side of the totem depicts the Salish traditional story of the Raven and the Sun. The story tells of how at great pain, the Raven delivered the sun, moon, stars and fire to humanity and how we humans should treasure them as essential to our survival.

NLM bench 'The Raven and the Sun'

NLM Native American sculpture ‘The Raven and the Sun’


Nicholas Culpeper’s World-Famous Herbal Guide To Radiant Health (see jacket, below)

Among the nearly 20 million books, journals, manuscripts, audiovisuals, and other forms of medical information on its library shelves, the NLM considers Culpepers’s Complete Herbal  to be a primary source for information on herbs and herbal medicine. Written over 350 years ago by Nicholas Culpeper (1616-54), the guide contains a wealth of pharmaceutical and herbal knowledge, including a listing of herbs and their properties, many of which can be found in the garden.

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Culpeper’s master work, The Complete Herbal

Culpeper was a 17th century physician and herbalist who spent much of his life outdoors gathering and cataloguing medicinal herbs. Although he studied medicine at Cambridge, he abandoned a traditional practice in order to provide low-cost health services to the poor.  Culpeper believed that no man should have to ‘starve’ to pay a physician, and he saw plenty of suffering around him. So, he sourced his medicines from the surrounding countryside and that enabled him to offer the bulk of his services for free.

He wrote,

This not being pleasing, and less profitable to me, I consulted with my two brothers, Dr. Reason and Dr. Experience, and took a voyage to visit my mother Nature, by whose advice, together with the help of Dr. Diligence, I at last obtained my desire; and, being warned by Mr. Honesty, a stranger in our days, to publish it to the world, I have done it.”


Considered a radical in his time, Culpeper’s  herbal medicine practice and writings on the subject proved to be a thorn in the side of his fellow physicians. Moreover, Culpeper believed that expensive fees and the use of Latin by doctors kept power and freedom from the general public.  He shocked the establishment by publishing the Complete Herbal and other works in vernacular English so that everyone could read them. It is widely believed that Culpeper’s systemization of the use of herbals was a key development in the evolution of modern pharmaceuticals.


A sample of some of Culpeper’s cures using various plants and flowers can be found on the NLM Herb Garden website. Readers are cautioned, however, from attempting any of the remedies at home since they have not been officially proven to work. Following are just a few plants whose curative properties caught my eye in the garden.

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)  USES:  Diaphoretic, immunostimulant and tonic.



Cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans)   USES: To reduce inflammation and treat sore mouths and ulcers. It also can be applied to painful joints.

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Goldenrod (Solidago Canadensis)   USES: Mild diuretic and treatment for urinary tract inflammation and kidney stones.



African Blue Basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x O. basilicum ‘Dark Opal’)  USES: Reduces fever and treats skin infections.


African Blue Basil

Comfrey, Knitbone (Symphytum Officionale)  USES:  A healing plant for broken bones, wounds and ulcers.


Comfrey, also known as Knitbone

Here was a surprise. Although I am aware that Lenten Rose, Helleborus orientalis, can be somewhat toxic, I didn’t know it can also kill rats.


Lenten Rose

Finally, I certainly didn’t know that Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) can be used topically for wounds, cuts and abrasions and is also good for allergic mucus problems including hay fever. I may try it out!



These are just a very few of the many interesting and beautiful flowering herbs to be found at the NLM Herb Garden. The garden is maintained by the Montgomery County Master Gardeners and the Potomac Chapter of the Herb Society of America. For more information on the garden and how to get there, click here for the website.


Scientists Uncover Why Young Sunflowers Follow The Sun


A young sunflower

Sunflowers are known for their unique tracking ability. As they grow, young sunflowers follow the sun’s motion from east to west across the summer sky from sunup to sundown. Come nightfall, the flowers swing from west to east, only to begin their rotation all over again when the sun rises. Scientists have observed this behavior as far back as 1898. But until now, no one knew how the flowers did it.

Now comes a new study published this week in the journal Science that suggests that young sunflowers, just like people, are guided by circadian rhythms. These internal ‘body clocks’, which help regulate the plant’s growth, are set to respond to environmental cues. And they are the chief mechanism behind the plant’s unique tracking behavior.


“It’s the first example of a plant’s clock modulating growth in a natural environment, and having real repercussions for the plant,” said Stacey Harmer, professor of plant biology at University of California-Davis, and senior author of the paper reporting the discovery.

And that’s only half the story. It turns out that young sunflowers are not only attuned to the positional changes of the sun, they can even anticipate the seasonal shift between long and short days and adjust their behavior accordingly.


According to Harmer, scientists uncovered this astonishing fact by using a time-lapse video to observe how the plants moved during different times of the year. They discovered that during long summer days the sunflowers rotated more slowly, but quickly repositioned themselves at night to face east before dawn. In September when the days grew shorter, however, the flowers took longer to reorient themselves, indicating that they knew when the sun was coming up.

(Harmer notes that the research applies to young flowers only, which are the only ones that follow this circadian rhythm. Once flowers are mature, or the yellow petals have unfurled, the flowers remain in place.)


They tricked the plants

To determine what made young sunflowers follow this circadian rhythm, scientists conducted a series of experiments using plants in the field, in pots outdoors and in indoor growth chambers. In the field, they purposely turned potted plants to face west in the morning to disrupt the sunflower’s tracking ability.

Scientists discovered that those plants that were deliberately faced westward still rotated to follow the sun (in reverse), but they grew more slowly than the other sunflowers, eventually developing into smaller plants, with smaller leaves and about 10 % less biomass.


Young sunflower in the field

In a second series of experiments, the scientists moved potted sunflowers into an indoor growth chamber with a fixed overhead light. For several days, the sunflowers continued their daily rotation which, according to Harmer, is behavior typical of a mechanism driven by an internal clock.

The sunflowers really started tracking “the sun” again when scientists created an artificial 24-hour day by turning adjacent lights on and off in an arc to replicate natural conditions. However, when the scientists stretched the artificial day to 30 hours, the plants could no longer reliably track the artificial sun’s movement.


The flower doesn’t rotate, the stem does

But what is the actual mechanism rotating the sunflower? It turns out that it isn’t the flower at all, but the stem.

By placing ink dots on the stems and filming them with a video camera, scientists found that as the plant turned to follow the sun, the east side of the stem grew more rapidly than the west side. At night the reverse was true; the west side grew more rapidly as the plant swung the other way. They concluded that this rhythmic tracking helped the sunflowers absorb as many photons from the sun as possible, which is essential in creating the organic molecules the sunflowers use as food.



Once mature, sunflowers stay facing east

Finally, another series of experiments revealed that once the sunflower matures and the flower opens up, it finishes its tracking and remains in an east-facing position. This gives it a distinct advantage.


In the morning, east-facing flowers heat up more quickly and studies show that given a choice, pollinators spend longer time on individual flowers if they are warm.

Fascinating to think about next time you see a field of sunflowers –

How To Deadhead Flowers And Maximize Blooms


So the name doesn’t sound that appealing, but regular deadheading is an essential practice in the life of a garden. Not only does it keep flowers looking neat and attractive, it ensures a maximum amount of blooms over an extended period of time. I’ve come to appreciate the added work for the all the extra flowers it produces. There’s nothing like getting a plant to re-bloom that looks like it’s called it quits for the season. Continue reading

Bellagio’s Arcadia Garden Is A Sure Bet In Vegas


Bellagio Hotel’s Conservatory

Most people go to Las Vegas to gamble, but recently when I found myself in the city for a few days, I went searching for a garden. I didn’t have to look far. At the heart of the Bellagio Hotel, I discovered a garden oasis known as the Conservatory. As befits such a colorful city, it was overflowing with thousands of bright-hued flowers, intense-smelling ornamental shrubs and large, floral-embellished ocean creatures; all part of the hotel’s summer exhibit titled Under The Sea. Continue reading

How To Add ‘Hot’ Colors To Your Summer Garden


There’s nothing like a healthy dose of hot color to add sizzle to your summer garden. And come mid-July, after the initial flush of spring pastels, flower borders can start looking a little tired. This is the time of year when I like to inject some fiery reds, bright oranges and brilliant yellows into the mix of flowers in my garden. The key is to balance hot colors with cooler ones so that they don’t overpower the other plantings.

What are hot colors exactly? On the primary color wheel, red and yellow are the hot colors.


Secondary colors result when two primary colors are mixed together. Among these blends, orange is also considered hot.116177736

And there are also tertiary colors, which are created by mixing a primary with a secondary color. Colors like red-orange, yellow-orange and all tints and shades of these hues are hot colors.




In the garden, red and orange glow more intensely than other colors, especially when the sun is low in the sky. Nature provides us with a perfect example of how the sun’s position affects colors’ intensity. As the sun sets on the horizon, the predominant colors we see are orange, yellow and red. And at sunset, the only remaining visible color is red.


And in the summer garden, just like in nature, the primary color red forms the basis for hot color harmonies.

hot color4

Andrew Lawson, one of the world’s leading landscape photographers and author of one of my favorite garden books, The Gardener’s Book of Color, has this to say about adding hot colors to your garden:

“By putting together three of the brightest, most intense colors, you increase their vitality and encourage each to ‘sing out’ at full strength. Concentrate these colors together in the garden and sparks seem to fly.”


Red-colored flowers can add fireworks to the summer garden.


And by combining red flowers with yellow and orange and all of the tertiary colors in between,  you can infuse your summer garden with vitality and interest.



While it’s clear that red, yellow and orange can be visually uplifting, in strict combination these colors can be anything but restful.


Intense color harmonies can quickly become overpowering if not carefully combined and ‘cooled’ down by other, contrasting colors and foliage. Those contrasting, ‘cooling’ colors, can be found opposite the hot ones on the color spectrum.

In this hot-colored flower border at Cliveden, the color purple in the form of purple-blue salvia pokes its head above cascading drifts of Alchillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’ (Yarrow) and burnt orange Helenium ‘Wyndley’ (Sneezeweed) to create a stunning visual display.

Cliveden 'hot' border: flicker.com

If your summer border is composed mainly of hot colors, Lawson recommends surrounding your red, orange or yellow flowers with deep green hedges or other types of enclosures for maximum impact. The gardeners at Washington, DC’s Hillwood Museum & Gardens do this beautifully. Notice how the deep green hedge provides a solid backdrop to the hot-color flowers while the lighter green ferns and luxurious lawn have a ‘cooling’ effect.

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Or, choose dark-colored foliage to tone things down a bit. Great examples include the red-leaved varieties of the shrubs barberry and smoke bush as well as the dramatic purple-black foliage of canna lilies. In this photo I snapped at  Hillwood Gardens (below), the plant’s own burgundy-toned foliage provides a cooling contrast to its orange flower.


Another way to offset all those vibrant reds, yellows and oranges in the summer garden is to incorporate purples and blues into your hot-color border. These ‘cool’ colors, found opposite their ‘hot’ cousins on the secondary color wheel, provide a classic color contrast that has been used in gardens for centuries. Spiky blue salvias and veronicas, dark purple delphiniums and lavender-blue perovskia (Russian sage) are just a few good options for setting up these kinds of color contrasts.


The color pink is considered a ‘tint’ of red, or a color that has been lightened by adding white



The color white acts as a ‘light’ in the garden. In the hot-color border, small splashes of white can ‘lift’ the garden composition, while providing tonal contrast with other plants. Be careful not to use too much of it, though, or your eye will be attracted only to the white patch to the exclusion of your other hot colors.

In a section of my own hot-colored summer border (below), I use the re-blooming bearded iris ‘Immortality‘ to provide just such a contrast.


Pure white plants like Phlox paniculata ‘David’ and Echinacea purpurea ‘Milkshake’, when used sparingly, can also provide great tonal contrast, while the softer-hued Artemisia lactiflora ’Guizhou’, Gypsophila (Baby’s Breath) and Boltonia asteroides ‘Snowbank’ deliver subtle lights to the garden.



Ready to add some great, hot-colored flowers to your summer border? Here are some tried-and-true suggestions.



Purple-leaved Canna ‘Australia’, Chrysanthemum ‘Matchsticks’, Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’, Gerbera ‘Drakensberg Scarlet’, Hibiscus ‘Fireball’, Lobelia ‘Cardinalis’, Malvaviscus drummondii (Turks’ Cap)and any red dahlia.



Yarrow ‘Coronation Gold’, Daylily ‘Happy Returns’, Daylily ‘Stella d’Oro’, Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’, Oxeye ‘Tuscan Sun’, Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ and Shasta Daisy ‘Banana Cream’.



Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Dahlia ‘David Howard’, Daylily ‘Primal Scream Orange’, Lantana ‘Southern Fried’ and Lilium ‘African Queen Group’.



Agapanthus ‘Elaine’, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, Buddleia ‘Ellen’s Blue’, Nepeta ‘Purple Haze’, Salvia ‘May Night’, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ or ‘Victoria Blue’.

Finally, sprinkle in some white flowering plants and sit back and enjoy your hot-color summer border. Happy planting!