Miami, Florida – Viscaya

It is difficult to write about Viscaya without stringing superlatives together. Viscaya sits at the rim of Biscayne Bay. When you visit Viscaya you will enjoy the location, art, history, and the mist of the waves splashing the shoreline. I went to Viscaya to study and find design inspiration.

Boat Dock

The structural materials selected to design the gardens have an intentional weathered appearance. Some of my favorite structures are the water features. The boat dock is massive and amazing (photo 1).

Parterre Recessed Pool

Recessed at the rim of the parterre are shell shaped water features these pools have a cooling effect (photo 2).



Toad Fountain

Overlooking the parterre a toad fountain is centered on the steps connecting the home to the gardens (photo 3).

Yup, this basic garden maker has no problem rambling about the Viscaya gardens. Of course I took lots of pictures. This place is relaxing and inspiring. It is worth a visit.

Miami – Fairchild Tropical Gardens

Miami – Fairchild Tropical Gardens

Looks coconuts!

My visit to Miami welcomed me with cool breezes with temps in the upper 80’s.  Very nice.   Why did this garden maker go to Miami for plant and design study?  For me it was all about tropicals for conservation and design use.



The Fairchild history is humbling story about people looking into the future and realizing the importance to creating a place for Cycads, Palms, and tropicals for study and preservation.

What to learn about Cycads, Palms, Orchids, and iguanas?  Spend a day at Fairchild.  For me one day was a great introduction because all that I knew before was not good enough.


Lecythidaceae – Wonder fragrant Cannonball tree!

Fairchild does a wonderful job educating visitors.  They offer free trams and walking tours.  Of course you can tour the grounds on your own.  If you choose to tour the grounds on your own pay attention to the gator sighting signs!

Fall Containers – National Arboretum

The National Arboretum

Fall is a great time to visit the National Arboretum.  The vistas are packed with colorful foliage that happens with the change of season.   Honestly, this place is probably my favorite visitor friendly destination in North American.  You can enjoy the National Arboretum solo, with a group, family, pets, ride a bike or go for a jog.

Sedum and Nasella
Sedum and Nasella

In my summer container blog I highlighted many containers at the arboretum.  Thought you might like to see how a couple of the containers looked following a hot summer. 

This planting of Sedum and Nasella does not disappoint.  The reflection in the window echoes this planting. 

Grass and Millet
Grass and Millet


The grassed and millet glowed with the sunrise and waved in the breeze.

Both these plantings are low maintenance and have long seasonal interest.

ARS Weeding Sickle

ARS Weeding Sickle – Nejiri Kama

In the winter 2016 I purchased the Nejiri Kama Weeding Sickle. The primary reason I selected this tool was for removing dead foliage from ornamental grasses and dried perennial stocks.

What I like about this sickle?

This small sickle is an efficient tool for removing expired foliage down to the plant basal foliage. The flat pointed tip (or toe) allows for precision when slicing into the soil to uproot weeds.

Sickles like a pruner have a sharp edge. It is important to keep the sickle sharp. If you allow the blade to dull you will notice it becomes less effective when cutting and slicing.

What is wrong with this sickle?

ARS Weeding Sickle - Nejiri Kama
ARS Weeding Sickle – Nejiri Kama

Typically, I work 5 to 6 days per week I use this sickle on a regular basis. In a season my tools get a lot of use. The sickle blade (chine) chips with use. Sharping the sickle will give you a good edge.

Would I purchase this sickle again?

Not sure, this is my first small sickle. It is the perfect size for various garden maintenance tasks. With or without chips this tool is handy. Wish it held up better to frequent use.

ARS LongReach™ Loppers, 1.7-inch Cutting Capacity

ARS LongReach™ Loppers
ARS LongReach™ Loppers, 1.7-inch Cutting Capacity

Pruning and training shrubs and trees is a big part of what I do to restore and maintain gardens.  Most of the time I work in lush plant filled garden locations.  Some gardens are on slopes, rocky terrain, or areas that are best accessed on foot due to the location layout.  My tools need to be light weight to allow me to move and work carefully.

This year I added the ARS LongReach™ Lopper to my work tools.   This lopper is a jewel.  Light weight, easy to use, carry, and is sturdy.  When doing scheduled espalier training and routine shrub and tree maintenance this tool reduced the need to get, set up, and remove a ladder. The lopper easily slides into the interior of shrubs and trees to prune out dead or crowded branches.

Source: A.M. Leonard (


Espalier Restoration

Photo 1
Photo 1: First dormant season photo shows an espalier overgrown and crowded

Clients who have established espaliers enjoy the living art.  Espaliers need to be maintained.  There are plenty of good books on pruning.  So, I am not going to explain how or when to prune.  Instead I am going to share a espalier restoration adventure.  The restoration and training process requires pruning restraint with an eye for understanding how each cut works to create a decorative structure.

Photo 2
Photo 2: Wire girdling the tree

When espaliers are neglected or mishandled they lose form and the plant health may decline (Photo 1).    A couple of years ago I was called to restore 3 neglected espaliers.  These espaliers are estimated to be more than 50 years old.  They were over grown, girdled by wire, and unsightly  (Photo 2).

Restoration takes time.  Therefore, pruning restraint is part of the maintenance process.  Time is calculated in seasons. How many seasons?  Depends on the project.  For this client I estimated 3 growing seasons to go from unsightly to revealing a decorative structure.

When I first consulted with the home owners I took pictures of the espaliers.  Using the photos I  discussed the issues and options the client choose restoration.   An example of a serious issue is this photo 2 were heavy gauge wire is girdling the tree.  This particular issue is a common problem that I encounter when I am consulting on other properties.

Photo 3
Photo 3: First season: Dormant pruning shows overcrowding reduction

After the first dormant season pruning was completed overcrowding was reduced (Photo 3).  The second season pruning was completed reducing height and overcrowding (Photo 4).  Compare photo 1, 3 and 4 notice the tree has been cleaned and congestion reduced.  Follow up maintenance is scheduled each season after the trees leaf out.

Photo 4
Photo 4: Second season pruning

Scheduled restoration takes time.  After the first maintenance season some clients will want the schedule to be accelerated.  As long as no safety hazards exist I stick to the restoration schedule.   Sticking to the schedule requires pruning restraint.  Keep in mind the health of the plant, the canopy, and what each cut means to restoring an artful structure.

Restoring neglected espaliers requires a maintenance priority discussion with the client.  The task list includes cleaning, reducing overcrowding, and height, remove girdling wires, and evaluation during scheduled maintenance.  During evaluation you are checking how the trees are compartmentalizing and making canopy reduction decisions.  Having a plan reduces maintenance hours during restoration.  Maintained espaliers are wonderful living garden decorations.

Return to this post February 2017 to get an update on this restoration adventure.


Garden Container Love

When I was a child my family sold terra cotta and ceramic containers from Mexico.   We did not have a retail store.  We would scout vacant lots on busy street corners park and sell our merchandise from the back of a truck.  The containers usually sold out by the afternoon.

This large Pennoyer Newman container is filled with tulips and violas.
Pennoyer Newman container filled with tulips and violas.

Winter is a good time to inventory garden containers.  During the winter I use this time to evaluate the containers that I have set in client gardens.  Containers complement the attitude of any garden.

Patapsco Valley Sales wherehouse.
Patapsco Valley Sales

Each one of my clients has a unique landscape attitude.  You can find containers for every attitude.   Client  landscape attitudes shift over time.  I am always looking to add a new garden container.  Hunting for new containers is exciting.  If I love the container sitting on a pallet I will buy it.

Do you love your containers?  Loved containers inspire seasonal plant selections.   If your container love has fizzled out it is time to move or modify your containers.  Best scenario is to add a new container to refresh your container love.

Large urn with bright foliage.
Large urn with bright foliage.

I am always scouting for containers.    Where I look depends on the garden attitude.  Good sources are nurseries, wholesalers, and consignment shops.

Some of the places where I have purchased containers:

  • Patapsco Valley Sales, Baltimore, MD – The inventory quality is fantastic.  Every container that I have purchased from Patapsco looks great.
  • Pennoyer Newman, New York, NY – These containers are tough, lightweight, look great, and can be left outdoors in cold climates.   My experience is with the following designs:  Garland Planter, Dutch Planter, French Florentine Round, The Modern Collection.
  • Southland Nursery, Vancouver BC – This nursery is an adventure.  The selection is amazing the team is happy to assist.