Cultivating Place: Talking Open Days with Jennifer Jewell

cultivating_place_online_logo_1500x1500pixels_72dpiWhat else can you say when your favorite garden podcast asks you to be a guest? You say “Hell, yes!” and worry about the rest (you know, like how on earth will you be able to keep up with her previously impressive guests and wonderfully thoughtful interviews) later.

Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden is a weekly public radio podcast on gardens and gardening as integral to our natural and cultural literacy. Created and hosted by Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place airs on North State Public Radio.

Listen to Cultivating Place: The Garden Conservancy’s
2017 Open Days Directory, With Laura Wilson

Jennifer and I spoke about the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program, my since resigned position that I still volunteer with and advocate for, and about garden visiting in general – our own personal experiences, and what the public can take away from a stroll through someone else’s private garden.

I discovered Cultivating Place just as it launched in February 2016. Jennifer’s beliefs on gardens and gardening reflect my own, and I felt a sense of relief the first time I read her mission statement. Great! I never have to try and put that into words again – she nails it. Hurray! Now I know (of) at least one person in California who is just. like. me.

Cultivating Place is based on two beliefs: The first, that horticulture (“the art of garden cultivation or management” according to the Oxford English Dictionary) is a foundational element of our cultural literacy — on par with art, music, architecture, history, geography, social studies and literature. The second, that gardens and gardening provide a unique, and uniquely beautiful, bridge connecting us to our larger environments — culturally and botanically.”

To find out more about Cultivating Place visit the weekly program page on the NSPR website, subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, and follow along on Instagram and Facebook for even more inspiration. You’ll be so glad you did.

Stay tuned for an upcoming post featuring highlights to look forward to with Northern California’s 2017 Open Days season. Meanwhile, here’s a peak at the three NY gardens I mention as my favorites in the interview…

GCOD.NY.AmyGoldmanFowlerGarden of Amy Goldman Fowler, Rhinebeck, NY (Open Days 2016)


Hyland/Wente garden, Millerton, NY (Open Days 2014)
View additional photos from this garden here.


Garden of Anne Spiegel, Wappingers Falls, NY (Open Days 2012)
View additional photos of this garden here.

A Fresh Start

GardenOn.SempervivumurnIt turns out moving cross country with a young family and starting a new job didn’t leave me with much of anything to give to a new blog project, and so 2016 saw very little growth here at Garden On! LOTS of garden exploring and learning, just no writing. This past January I resigned from my dreamy job with the Garden Conservancy Open Days program to focus on our little darlings (Sprout 1 and Sprout 2), and almost immediately felt a small spark of possibility …like maybe a reboot of Garden On could/should happen?

Then I spent three months thinking about this first post back. (Kiss of death for doing anything new.) So without further ado, this post marks a fresh start for Garden On! It already feels good to be back.

A quick note about the photo above. Last season this adorable urn planted with sempervivum (hens and chicks) lived as the centerpiece on our patio dining table all year long. It was sweet and small and stayed mostly out of the way. Then, last week I picked it up and set it on a table nearby without really giving it much thought (it was one of those pot moving days…) and POW! It was exactly what that spot needed. Suddenly the urn, the pot behind it, the table – the whole vignette came to life. I didn’t mean to do it.

I love these garden moments; both the thrill of making them by accident, and also the delight of finding a perfectly fitting composition of any kind (pots, rocks, plants, etc) when exploring a garden. So now I’m on a mission to pay attention to small, thoughtful details this season. Who knows if the magic can happen again – on purpose this time.

Follow Garden On! on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest!

Happy Nat’l Public Gardens Day!

I l-o-v-e gardens. And so in honor of National Public Gardens Day 2016, a newish holiday that genuinely makes me feel like celebrating, I’m sharing this quick photo tour of garden visits I’ve made over the past five years. Hopefully after viewing, you’ll want to party (or visit a public garden in the near future) too. For help finding a garden near you, go to the American Public Gardens Association website.

GardenOn.NYBG2New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY

GardenOn.NYBGNew York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY
(Opening weekend of the Native Plant Garden, Mother’s Day 2013)

GardenOn.WethersfieldWethersfield, Amenia, NY


Wave Hill, New York, NY

GardenOn.WaveHillWave Hill, New York, NY


Vassar Shakespeare Garden, Poughkeepsie, NY

GardenOn.UntermyerUntermyer Gardens, Yonkers, NY


UC Berkeley Botanic Garden, Berkeley, CA


The Mount, Lenox, MA


San Francisco Botanical Garden, San Francisco, CA
(With two of my most dedicated, garden-visiting partners in crime!)

GardenOn.PlantingFieldsPlanting Fields Arboretum, Oyster Bay, NY
(Nothing chases the Long Island winter blues away like a trip to the
Planting Fields Camellia House in February!)


Orange County Arboretum, Montgomery, NY


North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill, NC

GardenOn.NaumkeagNaumkeag, Stockbridge, MA

GardenOn.MtTopArboretumMountain Top Arboretum, Tannersville, NY

GardenOn.MontrealBGMontreal Botanical Garden, Montreal, Canada

GardenOn.MontgomeryPlaceMontgomery Place, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY


Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA


Longwood Gardens, Kennet Square, PA


Locust Grove, Pougkeepsie, NY

GardenOn.JCRaulstonArbJC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, NC

GardenOn.InnisfreeInnisfree, Millbrook, NY

GardenOn.HakoneEstateHakone Estate Gardens, Saratoga, CA

GardenOn.GroundsForSculptureGrounds For Sculpture, Hamilton, NJ

GardenOn.GreyTowersGrey Towers, Milford, PA

GardenOn.GardenInTheWoodsGarden in the Woods, Framingham, MA

GardenOn.FiloliFiloli, Woodside, CA


Chanticleer, Wayne, PA

GardenOn.Bellefield2Bellefield, Hyde Park, NY

GardenOn.AnnapolisRoyalAnnapolis Royal Historic Gardens, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada



Garden Visit: Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco


Back in December (2015) we were up for a quick garden outing and headed to Golden Gate Park to visit the Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States.


I didn’t read the history of the garden while we were there, it was pretty crowded and there were photos to take! But this sad story can be found on the website:

Originally created as a “Japanese Village” exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, the site originally spanned about one acre and showcased a Japanese style garden. When the fair closed, Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara and superintendent John McLaren reached a gentleman’s agreement, allowing Mr. Hagiwara to create and maintain a permanent Japanese style garden as a gift for posterity. He became caretaker of the property, pouring all of his personal wealth, passion, and creative talents into creating a garden of utmost perfection. Mr. Hagiwara expanded the garden to its current size of approximately 5 acres where he and his family lived for many years until 1942 when they, along with approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans, were forced to evacuate their homes and move into internment camps. When the war was over, the Hagiwara family was not allowed to return to their home at the tea garden and in subsequent years, many Hagiwara family treasures were removed and new additions were made.




Just when I thought garden visiting couldn’t get any better, I walk into one that serves ethnic food. (What’s next – a beer garden garden?) It was packed, and looked like an absolutely perfect place to be on a Sunday afternoon.




The ginkos had been showing off their fall color since we arrived in California in early December, and fallen leaves made for beautiful golden carpets throughout the garden.



This photo doesn’t do it justice, but climbing the very steep Drum Bridge is a must when visiting the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco.

GardenOn.JapaneseTeaGarden11Japanese Tea Garden
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA

Hours: Mar-Oct: 9am-6pm; Nov-Feb 9am-4:45pm

Open daily, no holiday closures.
Admission: Mon, Wed, Fri: FREE before 10am
Adult: $8 (Non-Residents), Kids $2.

I’ve recently learned about the North American Japanese Garden Association, championing the art, craft and heart of Japanese gardens in the US and Canada. To read more about this organization, or find a garden near you, visit their website at

Phyllis, the Amaryllis


Every new start has to begin somewhere, I just never thought mine would be in the Trash Room.

The first member of my new West Coast starting-from-scratch plant collection was a cast-off holiday plant someone was throwing out when we were in corporate housing. At first, I left it alone. I wanted my first plant acquisition to be special! But after a few trips to get rid of the gift wrapping refuse, I just couldn’t leave her there any longer. (Kind of like puppy eyes at the pound, I guess). And I’m pretty sure I’ll always remember this amaryllis from our first Christmas in California.

I couldn’t resist naming her, of course. Meet Phyllis.
(The tag claims she’s typical red, but I would swear her spent blooms – still attached when thrown away – look pink. Nice!)

Goodbye, Garden


I enthusiastically embrace this opportunity I’ve been given to learn about hundreds of new plants and the growing season and the amazing gardens and nurseries here in the Bay Area. I’ve even already managed to start up a minimal container garden on the patio while in temporary housing. But before I start talking about that, I figured I should introduce – and say a final farewell to – my former garden in Wallkill, NY.


I do actually shed a tear when I think of my old garden, which I’m pretty sure is serving as an emotional catchall for everything I’m sad to have left behind with our move across the country. Our home and garden were very much a work in progress that was nowhere near done. We lived and grew there for nine years, during which time our two sons were born.

For nine years I looked at and thought about my garden every day; my design dreams were big, the task lists long, and the creative satisfaction complete. Looking back through the couple of thousand (!) photographs I’ve taken was fun. I laughed out loud to see just how many plants I killed. And I was happy to find that so many of the photos made me recall a moment from our lives, or a lesson learned, or how a certain plant came to be mine – where it came from and who I was with …. So I’ve decided to first share photos that spoke to me while reviewing, or have a story to tell, rather than give a tour. I’ll save the prettiest shots for a second post.

GardenOn.Bruyns.DaffWe bought our house in October of 2006, and the following spring brought a few pleasant surprises. The first was the many clumps of daffodils in the meadow at the far end of the lawn. The family that owned the house for decades before us were greenhouse growers, and I imagined they took the unsold easter pots and threw them into the field to sink or swim. I transplanted all the clumps of white into the garden over the years, never bothered to look into what variety it was. But there was an outstanding, yellow and green-streaked double that I regret not digging and stashing at a friend’s before we left. I’m pretty sure it’s ‘Van Sion’. These meadow daffs served as my spring cutting garden.

GardenOn.Bruyns.DaffsPerhaps those surprise daffodils helped shape me into such an enthusiastic bulb lover? Pictured above are some of the dozen varieties of narcissus that I added to the garden, along with a few thousand other bulbs, over the years.

The other surprise was found under the lawn that went right up to the patio door. (The walk-out basement with door to the garden was one of my favorite parts of the house from the first time I saw it.) My dad died unexpectedly earlier that spring, and I spent every day off from work gardening – and crying. One of my first garden projects was trying to clear a bed along the old front steps and foundation when thunk! – I hit something. There was an old paver patio under all that grass, and I was able to work out a lot of anguish excavating that Hidden Patio. I referred to this part of the garden as such from that point on.

GardenOn.Bruyns.PatioThe Hidden Patio garden. A few years later, I decided gravel would be better for this area and we reused the pavers as edging.


This photo made me flash back
to how hard Todd worked
scraping, sanding, priming and painting the entire house. I was working weekends then at the
garden center, and he did it himself with some help from his mom.
A large elephant ear container
sits atop the old well amongst the mess.


Daylily “Sir Modred” was irresistible for it’s almost-black color and Arthurian name. One of many, many plants that I acquired at the nursery where I was working. An examination of our finances back then may have revealed I was working to support my new, completely out of control in the best of ways gardening habit. Lots of half-dead plants destined for the compost heap found happy homes in our garden as well.


The Holding Area. Wow, I’m really putting all of my ugly on display up front, eh? Every garden needs a work area. Mine also served as potting station, with potting bench built by Todd (I’ll have to share that design someday…), compost pile to the right, and plant limbo where all the many pots of plants that I divided, swapped for, rescued, bought for no reason, or couldn’t resist at auction came to wait their turn.


The Road Border. My first experiment with a large-scale mixed planting bed. This border was always getting tweaked, both by my own hand and nature’s choice a la self-sowers and die off. Each new season brought a new show. Privacy was achieved quickly by a few Miscanthus ‘Silberfeder’ and ‘Variegatus’ as well as Viburnum plicatum “Summer Snowflake.” The blue spruce was a live Christmas tree rescued from work, and a reference to the tree that grew in my front yard as a kid on Long Island.

GardenOn.Bruyns.RoadBedThis planting area was completed in stages because, as you can see, I needed to make really big beds. Not such a feat when you hire a landscape crew with machines and lots of muscle, but I was one gal with a wheelbarrow and hand tools and I wanted lots of big gardens fast. I learned quickly how fantastic the smothering method works, and you can read Margaret Roach’s explanation of this technique here. Garden smarter, not harder! Above you can see a big push to link two existing beds, wrapping around the large ash tree and creating a continuous garden space between our property and the road.


The Road Border in early spring looking back towards the house.


IMG_1577My former garden was a total Hellebore farm. Early on I ordered one three-pack of Helleborus x hybridus from Bluestone Perennials (50% off!) and every year there were tons of babies. My hellebore crop was so plentiful that I was never tempted by any of the fancier names varieties. They thrived under many of the shade trees, in front of the deck, next to the driveway…there were days I wondered “Is it too much Hellebore?”

HA! We all know there’s no such thing.


Another important thing I learned with this garden is that hardscape must come first and don’t skimp, skip or be lazy about this part – the backbone of every good garden. Often the most successful projects or improvements made in our garden had nothing to do with planting. Above is a sliver of space that existed between a concrete driveway and a low rock wall. When I finally got around to digging it out, leveling it, and filling it with leftover driveway gravel (Hey hon, remember that time I ordered twice as many tons of gravel than we needed?) it became a stage for some of my potted plant collection and one of my favorite garden spaces. This is the kind of small moments I love most in a garden.


The Well Garden was another of my favorites areas. Nestled in a corner outside both a kitchen and living room window was an old well cap. Already covered with moss and lichen, it begged to become something more, and planning a new container planting each year was something I looked forward to.


This Lycoris photo always makes me laugh. When I started blogging about my garden, I was shocked to see how many hits a post about this plant received. And then I realized folks finding their way to my site were probably disappointed to see the “Naked Ladies” I was speaking of. I was on the local garden tour once and I dug up Lycoris bulbs to share, happy to pass along this plant that I’d inherited with the property.


Change is one of the most powerful, but not most often talked about, elements of a garden – and it’s part of what I love the most. In this photo it’s not the plants or the garden that are on the cusp of transformation; me, weeding on my hands and knees an hour before heading to the hospital to have our first son, Henry.


Photographing the garden was an important tool for so many reasons. I have gone back and looked at these images countless times through the years for reference and planning; there is absolutely no way I could remember a fraction of the “data” captured by the camera each season.You see things you might not notice otherwise and having a camera in your hands means you’re not weeding, watering or pinching – providing time spent in the garden slowly observing and appreciating.

And because I took all those photographs, I can visit my former garden any time I like.

GardenOn.Bruyns.ToDrivewayI can feel my tired back and legs working to make it up this hill to go inside at the end of a marathon work session in the garden – there were so many! I don’t recall ever being relieved or happy I was done for the day, I’d have stayed (out there) forever if I could have.


Care to see a little bit more? Photo favorites from this garden in my next post – coming soon!



Speaking of Plants


We did it. Four days ago our family moved 3000 miles from Wallkill, NY to San Jose, CA. To all our loved ones who checked in with us, I hope you didn’t roll your eyes when you asked how we were doing and I, of course, mentioned the plants.

When we drive down the highway, pull into Target or I look out the window of our development I don’t recognize a single thing growing. Nada. And I’m not taking it very well.

Our first day here it agitated me. The second day here I looked around wildly thinking “How long will I feel this way?” But by day three I’d already successfully id’d almost a half dozen plants and am finally ready to talk about it.

I explained it to husband, TF, like this: you speak english fluently, and as you pass through your environment your mind effortlessly reads every word it sees – on signs, packaging, etc – even if you’re not actively interested. It happens passively, and your fluency turns it into background noise you don’t even hear yourself reading. When you go to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and are surrounded by messages you can’t understand you notice them all, because your eyes still see them and your brain struggles to understand. It can be a little bit frustrating, tiring even.

After a few days, I now understand that’s what’s happening to me but with the plants. In New York I was always seeing every tree, shrub and groundcover encountered throughout the day; silently recalling their names and habits were like a second language. San Jose’s landscape palette – which isn’t completely alienating aesthetically – is not speaking to me.

Starr_010914-0062_Washingtonia_robusta150I’m taking my successful id’s to heart and feeling encouraged, motivated even! So I plan to start with what is right outside our windows and take it from there, and getting to know these few new leafy friends has made it begin to feel a little bit more like home already.

Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta) – I started with the easiest to pick out of the crowd, and we certainly don’t grow this in the Northeast. Mexican Fan Palm is the very tall, sometimes rangy-looking frond palms we see peeking above everything when driving down the highway. (Photo: Forest & Kim Starr)

I also learned to identify the Canary Island Date Palm when coming across this entertaining story about the Bay Bridge.

GardenOn.PistacheChinese Pistache (Pisctacia chinensis) – Fall foliage makes for an easyish time identifying any plant who puts on a show, and Chinese Pistache is definitely standing out from the crowd right now. Fiery leaves and big, pendulous clusters of red fruit had me looking this up right away. Hey, even an easy victory is still a win!



Bird of Paradise (Strelizia reginae) – Another easy win, I was already familiar with Bird of Paradise but had no idea it would be blooming in December or was used as in mass planting. Looked pretty good too!



Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unendo) – This was my first a-ha! on the list. Young strawberry trees are planted right outside our apartment windows and I didn’t have a hard time guessing what they were, I had already looked it up when we visited in September. Coarse glossy leaves and outstanding bark. It’s possible these are ‘Marina’ which seems to be a popular hybrid for landscape design.



Chinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) – Is Chinese Elm planted in the Northeast and I just never noticed? Another great bark, this one stopped me on the street (there are currently no leaves to speak of) and after I matched the mottled pattern and learned who I was looking at, I was chagrined. This tree grows in zone 4-9. Should have known this one.



Dwarf Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus), possibly ‘Little John’? Seen underplanting trees here in our development. Somewhat familiar with this plant, I didn’t remember the name by looking at it, and had to search a dwarf variety that I found on the San Marcos Growers website, a great resource for me so far.

I assume it’s safe to say that if these plants are looking good at this time of year then they can withstand a long season with limited water and whatever other elements sometimes make a plant look beat up by seasons end.

Looking back, this isn’t too bad for week one! I’m feeling a little more comfortable and connected to our new home already.

Performance Anxiety?


Bring your kids plant shopping – it’s just as much fun for them as any other outdoor environment.

I don’t know what my problem is, but so far (Days living on West Coast: 5) I have been unable to make a plant purchase. And not for lack of opportunity. I met a cool succulent seller, Cody from Kaprielian Growers, at the Mountain View farmers market last Sunday who had a fun selection and great prices. Then, today, the kids and I went to check out SummerWinds Nursery, also in Mountain View, and left with an empty trunk.

GardenOn.PlanerideWhat the heck!?! Goodness knows I’ve racked up enough plant-buying points supervising and surviving a cross-country move with an infant, toddler, cat and husband. I also gave away my entire potted plant collection. And left my garden behind, not to mention friends and family. There are definitely many new garden buys to be had in the near future, but for some reason I just can’t get this party started. Please stay tuned, the curse is sure to lift any day now…

Have a local nursery or grower to recommend – please share in the comments below!


Adios, overwintering!

I was looking through past garden photos of my own garden – getting ready to share a nostalgic look back, and sort of giving them one last goodbye peek before we move in ONE WEEK – and came across this gem.


Guess I wont have to deal with this anymore, eh?

For the plant-crazy folk who garden in colder climates – like the Hudson Valley’s zone 5 – keeping tender plants alive from year to year is part challenge, part hoarder and all garden nerd. It connects us. It excites us. It impresses us! “Ooooh, your garage is heated?” “My, what a large and healthy brugmansia you have!”

Which plants come in when, what goes into the basement vs the garage vs the unheated shed – it’s all part of the advanced gardening game that allows us to maintain a diverse collection of larger and more varied specimens that no one could afford to replace every year.

And now I won’t have to worry about that. Ok! I guess. I can’t wait to see what seasoned gardeners dish about in our new, much warmer, home.

(Note the trowel frozen in ice inside the garden trug)

You Know You’re A Garden Geek When…


GardenOn.BillThomasFB…you are OVERCOME with giddiness because the Head Gardener / Executive Director of your favorite (and one of the most amazing) public gardens likes your Facebook post. For the non-gardening set, think getting a nod from your favorite celebrity – like Madonna, or maybe George Clooney?

Anyway, I’m psyched. Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, PA is a must see. An incredibly creative and dedicated staff of gardeners lives and works there, and I have yet to experience a more artistic, exciting interpretation of what a garden can be or how plants can be used. It’s mind-blowing.

Thanks, Bill Thomas. You made my night!

Photos are from my visit to Chanticleer in 2009. For more information about the garden, visit their website, and be sure to check out the new book from Timber Press “The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer” written by the Chanticleer gardeners and R. William Thomas, available online from Amazon. 



Chanticleer Garden
786 Church Road, Wayne, PA 19087
610.687.4163  |

Follow Chanticleer on Facebook and Instagram