How a Liberal Arts education will help you through the tough times.

On a recent Sunday morning I was listening to ‘Car Talk’ on NPR and a caller, an educator, whose job it was to convince her charges, high school students enrolled in an automotive repair and maintenance program, that other, less, hands on, subjects, like English literature or mathematics, are important to their development as future wage earners in their ‘chosen’ career. Of course, this would seem like an Sisyphisian task, and so she called Click and Clack, the Tappert Brothers. Who wouldn’t? Click and Clack agreed with her and, as educated men themselves, were able to provide numerous selling points on the virtues of a well-rounded education. Reading manuals, calculating numbers, quoting Shakespeare, …the usual.

Today, experiencing yet another of the abundant and unsolicited Comcastic moments that seem to introduce serendipity and pure chance into my life, I was reminded of that ‘Car Talk’ caller. My internet connectivity is as pure and fresh and reliable as a sudden squall. As I watched the hands of time march on while waiting for a website to load, or my e-mail to appear, I was reminded of those young high school students, their troubled and concerned guardian and the sum of my own experiences. The minutes ticked by and, after a brief, not more than 5 minute, jog up to the house from my studio to get a couple of aspirin to treat the increasingly severe headache, caused by frustration, no doubt,  I was amazed that I could still, after all these years, recall a T.S. Eliot poem…”I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear my trousers rolled and walk upon the beach. Do I dare eat a peach?..

Therein lies the true power of a liberal arts education. That said, I do wish I was more like my sister,…she’s memorized the entirety of Coleridges’  ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, which could come in handy when dealing with Comcast.

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5 Top Landscape Mistakes: No.1 Foundation Plantings

We were recently contacted by Connecticut Magazine to add our thoughts to a piece being written about the top 10 landscape mistakes. The author wanted our opinion to be limited to stonewall building mistakes, as she was seeking the opinion of other CT based professionals for different aspects of the landscape. When the published piece came out, I was surprised that those that I would consider to be the top 5 on my list, the most common and ubiquitous mistakes weren’t mentioned. Maybe these are considered too obvious to make note of but I see these unfortunate landscape transgressions so often that I thought I’d address them in a series of 5 posts, one for each ‘landscape mistake’. It was tough to put them in order because some of them are intertwined, and all of them are equally important.

One example of an overgrown foundation planting

One example of an overgrown foundation planting

MISTAKE #1: FOUNDATION PLANTINGS

Foundation plantings refers to the landscaping that immediately surrounds the perimeter of a building, either the house, garage, garden shed, whatever. The most common mistake is that which is the easiest to make, not making the border big enough or deep enough. It’s understandable and easy to see how this happens. You start off with, say, an azalea or a boxwood that’s no higher than you knees and it seems impossible to imagine what its mature height and width will be, despite what the label says, so you ignore the label and you ‘eyeball it’. Five years whiz by (which is really 5 minutes, in human time) and you’re making an appointments with ophthalmologists and fitness trainers because everything in the house seems really dark and you can’t fit through the front door. Then, it occurs to you. The shrubs have grown so large that they’re overwhelming the house. You then are left with only two choices; extreme pruning, which is more like amputation,  or tearing out your investment and starting over. You can avoid all of this by creating much deeper borders, spacing the plants in accordance with their potential mature growth in mind, and filling the empty spaces, which will be numerous and unattractive looking for a few years, with perennials, ornamental grasses and subshrubs, knowing that these may eventually be sacrificed. We also recommend starting off with the largest size shrubs as you can afford. It’s tempting to pick up a quart sized rhododendron at the local plant sale but don’t plant it in the foundation border. Save that benevolent impulse for a less resolved garden area where it won’t dictate the evolution of your landscape. You can read more about this in the third post, to be entitled Landscape Mistake #3; Working Without a Plan.

Eek! “I want my gardens to look like yours”

That was the statement and request of our dear friend and client and surely a compliment that is difficult to live up to. This was clearly stated in kindness (or blindness to the weeds, chicken scratchings and the almost accidental, haphazard quality that our gardens possess) but  we did understand her meaning. When we’re on top of our game, our gardens do express abundance, jubilance, colorfulness and romance. We create cottage gardens. This garden is newly planted, and it always irks me to see the gardens that we create at this particular stage because of their awkwardness. The fresh mulch and the instant color is nice, and yet, they are immature. Many of the plants have been reared in greenhouses and so their flowering periods are somewhat out of synch with nature. Plants chosen to cascade, drape and mound are too young to do so and those meant to stand tall, proud and boldly display color like a peacock may not perform instantaneously. As always, it takes a year or two for a garden to come into its own. Many of the previously existing perennials, including peonies and hibiscus, will languish after the move and may not flower this year or next, but, still, the  promise of a new garden, carefully created; removing invasive weeds, stem by stem, filtering the soil, hand-digging 12″ of horse manure into the ground, incorporating organic fertilizers and watering and mulching, is a promise of beauty and sensual enjoyment for years to come.  New perennial borders for Thirsty Boots Farm paddocks.

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New perennial borders for Thirsty Boots Farm paddocks.

New perennial borders for Thirsty Boots Farm paddocks.