Monthly Archives: March 2010

McKinnon and Harris

When I’m looking for outdoor furniture most of what I find is complete junk!  Whether it’s poorly designed or poorly constructed cheap (and I don’t just mean inexpensive, some of this crap is really pricey)furniture is a temporary fix.  When I look at outdoor accessories, be it furniture, containers or garden ornament I always try to push my clients towards something that will last.  Anything well designed and well built will last, I call these ‘generational’ pieces.  I don’t know if I made this up or picked it up somewhere but I think it’s a perfect description for the point I am trying to convey.

When it comes to furniture there is no finer company that I have come across than McKinnon and Harris.  This wonderful furniture company was founded by brother and sister William McKinnon Massie jr. and Annie Harris Massie.  They have stayed true to their heritage and kept all of the production here in the US outside of Richmond, Virginia.  All of the furniture is constructed of hand welded and hand shaped aluminum in their on site workshop.  With a myriad of colored powder coatings to chose from and a lifetime guarantee this amazing furniture is well worth the extra expense.

I love the line in their catalog, ‘We have been dismayed at the prevalence of throw-away things in out disposable culture, and like to think back to a time when things were built to last without exception.’  To see more of their work than shown below visit their website.

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Filed under Outdoor Furniture


Spring is here for sure.  Thankfully my design firm is busier than we know what to do with, hence the great distance between my posts lately (that and all day Sunday was spent in online traffic school).  Aside from myself we are all busy this time of year; hopefully in your gardens getting things ready in your perennial beds, planning new sections of your garden and getting your vegetable gardens going.  No matter what you are doing don’t forget to pay attention to the details.  These are the things that I always find the most enchanting about a well planned garden and it is easy to let a lot of these things slip through the cracks.

Fortunately I have found a wonderful garden photographer and blogger that is equally as obsessed with details.   Nanna Byland is from Sweden and  I have yet to decide, and I don’t think she has either, whether she is more interested in taking the pictures or the gardens she is photographing.  She has been so kind to let me steal photos from her that I will be using off and on here to help illustrate ideas and concepts.  You must visit her work HERE at funderagront.

What I have stolen from her in this instance are examples of the simple task of labeling your plants.  Many people have taken this to a new level beyond the everyday plastic label and sharpie.  Other than the last picture these are all Nanna’s pictures.

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Flowering Quince

So many great plants coming into bloom for spring.  One of the most under used and under appreciated flowering shrubs coming into bloom right now are the Chaenomeles species.  These Quince are native to Japan, China and Korea.  These plants are unbelievably popular in asia and especially Japan where there are whole nurseries that are devoted to nothing but hybridizing these wonderful spring bloomers (Japanese nurserymen seem to have a nursery singularly devoted to every plant).  Ironically as underused  as Chaenomeles are now they were widely used during the 19th century and as many plants do went out of favor over time.  Left to their own accord they will reach an average height and width of 3-4′, however I keep mine trimmed on a yearly basis and maintain them at 18″.

Chaenomoles do fruit but are not the same type of Quince that are commonly used throughout the Mediterranean that is Cydonia oblonga.  The fruit of Chaenomoles smells sweet but is quite bitter to taste.  It can however be used as many bitter fruits to make marmalades and liquors.  Here are some of my favorite cultivars.

‘Jet Trail’


‘Toyo Nishki’


Filed under Chaenomeles, Spring flowering shrubs


There is no garden that I would consider ‘great’ that hasn’t been finished off with fine garden ornament and no company I know of that produces a more refined or higher quality product than Longshadow Planters.  I have the great fortune to have become friends with the owners of this exquisite company, Daniel and Charlotte Ward.  I am planning a visit soon to go and see their products in production and to get a better feel for some of their designs that I haven’t used yet.  As a teaser Daniel sent me some pictures of their site and facilities that are fabulous and need to be seen by all of you.  I can’t wait to visit and share more pictures with you when I get back.

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Filed under Garden Ornament

Noteworthy introductions for 2010

Every year growers and propagators introduce hundreds of new plants to the trade.  A lot of us have a hard time thinking that our favorite Geranium or Hydrangea could be improved upon; but they can.  Here is a look at six of this years’ introductions that are worth thinking about installing in your own garden this year, and maybe even removing an old favorite to see what the new guys can do.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Milkshake’ – Milkshake Double White Coneflower

This is an amazing new Coneflower introduced by AB Cultivars.  The beauty of this plant, aside from its interesting white pompom shaped blooms, is how long they last.  While most Echinacea bloom July through the end of August ‘Milkshake’ starts showing color at the beginning of June all the way through September.

Height/Spread:  30-36” x 24-36”

Exposure: Full sun

Soil:  Average well drained garden soil

Hardiness zones: 5-9

Mahonia eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ – Soft Caress Mahonia

This is an amazing plant!  I saw the original plant two years ago and have been waiting for Novalis to introduce it.  If you are familiar with the ‘Oregon Grape Holly’ you may have a hard time believing these two are cousins by looking at the foliage of ‘Soft Caress’.  This native of Japan gets covered in a similar cluster of yellow flowers in early winter.  Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ is marginally hardy for us but is a fantastic container plant that can be taken in during the winter or allowed to come back from its rootstock every year as a low groundcover.  I’m very excited to plant this in my trial gardens.

Height/Spread:  3’x3’

Exposure: Part shade

Soil:  Moist but well drained

Hardiness zones: 7-11

Acer palmatum ‘Ryusen’ – Ryusen Japanese Maple

Acer p. ‘Ryusen’ is an introduction from plantsman Ozzie Johnson for Itsaul Plants and is being distributed by Novalis.  Ryusen has green palmate leaves and is a weeping form.  It has a very rapid, upright growth habit that makes it perfect for narrow spaces.  The best part of this Japanese Maple is its amazing bright yellow and orange fall color.

Height/Spread:  10-12’ h

Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

Soil:  Moist but well drained

Hardiness zones: 5-8

Colocasia ‘Mojito’ – Mojito Elephant Ear

If you like to plant your containers with tropicals then this is the plant on the list for you.  This new introduction of Elephant Ear from Hort Couture is sure to have an impact.  ‘Mojito’ has dark purple leaves mixed with chartreuse.  The stems are also brightly streaked.  This is a great new clumping introduction of Elephant Ear whose bulbs can be over wintered or simply treated as an annual.

Height/Spread:  36”

Exposure: Full sun to partial shade

Soil:  Moist but well drained

Hardiness zones:  Hardy to zone 8

Paeonia x ‘Kopper Kettle’ – Kopper Kettle Itoh Peony

Image provided by Monrovia Growers

I adore Peonies and the new Itoh series from Monrovia Growers may cause me to love them even more.  Kopper Kettle has large semi-double blooms that are copper-orange with a darker center and occasional yellow streaks.  This vigorous plant has such sturdy stems that it doesn’t require staking.  Look for all eight of the Peony introductions in this series, they are all amazing!

Height/Spread:  30” x 42”

Exposure: Full sun

Soil:  Needs weekly watering but well drained soil

Hardiness zones:  4-8

Hydrangea paniculataRenhy’ – Vanilla Strawberry Hydrangea

There have been so many new introductions of hydrangeas in the last few years it is hard to keep them straight much less decide whether we need this many options.  This one has really caught my attention though.  This hydrangea paniculata’s enormous blooms start out a creamy vanilla-white, changing to a soft pink and finally to a ripe strawberry-red. The color lasts for three to four weeks, longer than most hydrangeas of this variety.  The new blooms keep coming and showing off throughout the summer and early fall.  It has a very upright habit with large cone-shaped flowers.  This would be a great addition to a mixed border and I think you will see this plant become very popular.

Height/Spread:  6-7’ x 4-5’

Exposure: Full sun

Soil: Loamy, moist well drained soil

Hardiness zones:  4-8


Filed under New Plants

giardini la mortella

Russell Page has been a huge influence on my work and the way that I approach a garden.  If you have not read his classic The Education of a Gardener it is a must for any aspiring garden designer.  I cam across this wonderful video of one of his garden il giardini la mortella.  I hope you enjoy it:


Filed under Russell Page

Isola Bella for Sophisticated Living

This is an article I wrote for the publication Sophisticated Living on the wonderful garden in Lago Maggiore, Italy, Isola Bella.  I want to thank my beautiful wife Shannon and my dear friend Bill Jamieson for the all of their help with grammar and prose.  Clicking on the pages will enlarge them to a readable size.


Filed under Articles