Lisa Ellis Quilts

Oriental Garden, by Lisa Ellis. Raw-Edge Appliqué Lazy Landscape for sale at the Windrush Gallery in Fairfax, Va.

I got an email this week from Virginia quilter, Lisa Ellis, asking permission to translate one of my photos into one of her quilts. Wow! That’s like a dream come true, as her work is inspired. I especially like her landscape and art quilts.

Lisa writes that she “specializes in art quilts of spiritual and religious themes that express my faith. I am also passionate about making pieces for healing projects.” She is generous with her art, using it to raise money to fight Alzheimer’s and other causes.

And she blogs at, where in her most recent post she claims she’s not cool. I beg to differ. Check her out.

Felder Rushing in Syracuse, April 5

Felder's flamingosFelder Rushing will headline the Men’s Garden Club of Syracuse 14th annual spring gardening seminar. The the always entertaining author of Passalong Plants and much, much more will speak on ‘Slow Gardening’ and ‘How a Bird Feeder Can Save Your Sanity’. Also speaking will be Dr. Laura Deeter from Ohio State.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Felder was a big early inspiration. He gave me permission to do any damn thing I please. And I love his take on designing with form and texture in mind: “It all boils down to ’roundy/spiky/frilly’ don’t it?”

Non-member tuition is $45. More info: 315/420-6369.

Should be a hoot.

My first CD cover

Last December, I got an email out of the blue from Marya Katz, a musician and teacher from Blacksburg, Va. She wanted to use one of my sunset pictures for her CD of original hammered dulcimer music, Between Sunset and Stars, which I just received in the mail yesterday. Needless to say, I was honored.


Gardeners who like the lilting music of the hammered dulcimer will resonate with Marya’s music. She describes this 24-track CD (featuring fellow musicians on guitar, bass and flute) as “A collage of songs and tunes which come together to tell a story filled with thoughts and dreams at the end of a busy day.”

I especially enjoyed the liner notes to the tune Suspended Spring.

Shall we dance? Let’s share one last waltz tonight before we put these tunes and our tired souls to bed. This one was originally written to honor the lovely sunny daffodils, smiling boldly to the sliver of sunlight that was peeking through the steely gray clouds, as they daintily plucked up their soft green petticoats (lest they become dampened by the snowy white blanket which was covering the ground below them …)

Ordering info from Marya: CDs sell for $15.00 apiece, plus $1.50 for postage.

Marya Katz
702 Elizabeth Drive
Blacksburg, VA 24060

Questions? Email me at either of these addresses: or or call me at my home number: 540-961-4435

cd cover

Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop – Color in the Garden

My two cents for the Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop

home gardening purpleI’m not physically colorblind. But I don’t fret much about color because Sydney Eddison told me not to.

Just as my gardening obsession was approaching full bud, I had the pleasure of picking up Sydney at the airport and spending several hours chauffeuring her around a conference here at Cornell where she was speaking. (A nicer person you’ll never meet. I still cherish the bucket she gave me. Nice interview with her in the latest Fine Gardening, btw.)

I didn’t know a lot about garden design at the time. But I did know that if anyone could help me unlock the key to color in the garden, it was her. I was starting to research and write a web feature on color in the garden, and knew the basics about the color theory. But she regaled me stories of matching blooms to color combinations in her favorite art works and painting her patio furniture to complement the color schemes in her container plantings. I was fascinated, but admitted that I was overwhelmed by the possibilities.

She told me that I didn’t have to start with anything terribly sophisticated. I could simply start by planting something with light foliage next to something dark. That made me feel good, because at the time that was about the only intentional color management I had already done in the garden.

lysimachia and heuchera

ms color chooserWriting that web feature about color in the garden helped me to intellectuallize color theory. And it really clicked when I started doing more web work and had to pick colors for websites and other electronic communications. In fact, the principles of gardening and web design have a lot of overlap, and a lot of it isn’t rocket science. (If you want to draw the eye to something, nothing works like red.)

Play around with that little color-chooser that’s associated with most all Microsoft software (right) or the more sophisticated ones in Photoshop and other imaging programs, and you’ll know as much about color as you’ll get from a pile of paint chips or the RHS color codes.

But have I applied all this color theory to plant selection and combination in my own garden? Not so much. I try to match plants to the conditions and usually use the pot and shovel school of design: I wander around with a plant in a pot in one hand and a shovel in the other until I find someplace I can squeeze it in with a reasonable chance of surviving. Can’t say as I think much about the color of the neighboring plants or whether or not they’ll be blooming at the same time or whether or not those blooms will clash or blend.

I partly blame Piet Oudolf for my lackadaisical approach to color. In one of his books, he points out that by massing plants in large drifts and choosing plants where the ratio of flower to foliage is relatively low, your chances of accidently hitting on a dreadful color combination is minimized. That works for me.

Filipendula has a reasonable flower-to-foliage ratio
Filipendula has a reasonable flower-to-foliage ratio.

So don’t get me wrong, I love color. And like Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, I may not be able define great color in the garden, but I know it (and appreciate it) when I see it. I just let the plants surprise me through the season, rather than sweating up front whether or not the colors will work together.

All that said, I went through some images to see if they could provide me with some introspective clues about how I really feel about color in the garden.

I find I like interesting color combinations within individual flowers probably more than I like color combinations of groups of plants I may have put together:

Iris histrioides ‘Katharine Hodgkin’
Iris histrioides ‘Katharine Hodgkin’



PhotoShopped anemone
PhotoShopped anemone

I’m a sucker for the cool end of the spectrum — the purples and blues. It’s probably why I also have so many blue pots and explains the cobalt-blue bottle tree and other decorations.

 Iris reticulata
Iris reticulata

Colchicums from Kathy
Colchicums from Kathy

Spray-painted allium seedheads
Spray-painted allium seedheads

Purple primulas
Purple primulas

I have a ‘surfeit of yellow’ most of the time.

Fred and outhouse plant
Fred and outhouse plant.



Orange was my favorite color as a kid. Now I like to see orange only sparingly in the garden. Same with red.

Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’.
Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’.


Brown is a color, too. Often it means the plants are dead. But live or dead, I like it.

brown heuchera

I think the color of variegated solomon’s seal peaks just before it dies:

solomons seal

Echoing colors works in the garden, even on the micro level. So if you have a plant that’s happy where you are, spread it around.

bee on verbascum
Bee on verbascum


Unlike Nan Ondra, I like white — clean, dirty or anywhere in between.

images/Eupatorium purpureum ‘Joe White’
Eupatorium purpureum ‘Joe White’

Colchicum autumnale ‘Alboplenum’
Colchicum autumnale ‘Alboplenum’

Sanguisorba tenuifolia

<em />Sanguinaria canadensis ssp flore plena
Sanguinaria canadensis ssp flore plena

Grays are great. If I was gardening in a closer space and more adventurous with color, I’d use them more as separators.

Gray scan
One of my June bloom day scans.

I’ve given up trying to compete with fish and sunsets.



Book review: Tulipomania

Semper augustusTulipomania
The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused

Mike Dash
1999, 274 pages

I wasn’t sure I could read a whole book on the history of a flower. But Tulipomania engaged me to the end.

Most of the history takes place in what we now call the Netherlands. The first tulips arrived there in 1562 in a shipment of fabric from Istanbul, a few bulbs tucked inside the cloth as a kind of surprise gift. The merchant didn’t know what they were and ate half of them. The rest he planted, and later when they flowered he realized that he had something special.

The story climaxes in the winter of 1636-1637, during the height of speculative trading known as tulipmania. High-end bulbs such as the Semper Augustus (above) sold for as much as 40 times the average annual salary, and even common bulbs rose to incredible prices. Paintings are all we have left of many of the finer bulbs because the streaking of their petals was caused by a virus, which eventually weakened them and killed off the line. There is a nice collection of watercolors of these flowers — basically a bulb catalog — at the Norton Simon Museum. (Page through the picture-not-available pages. It’s worth it.)

During the mania, the bulbs seldom left the ground. What was traded was merely pieces of paper promising delivery at lifting time. Most of the trading took place in bars and taverns (along with much feasting and drinking payed for by a levy on each trade) until one day the traders just stopped bidding and the whole house of cards collapsed.

One of my favorite passages describes Jan Breughel the Younger’s Allegory upon the Tulip Mania, a detail from the painting below.

Allegory upon the Tulip Mania

Two dozen simian florists are portrayed indulging in all the rituals of the bulb trade. One points at some flowering tulips; another holds up a flower in one paw and a bag of money in the other. Behind them, a group of monkeys fight over who should pay for the now-worthless bulbs, and one speculator is carried to an early grave. On the right-hand side of the picture, a pair of apes share one of the florists’ traditional banquets while another is hauled before a magistrate for defaulting on his debts. In one corner a particularly disgruntled monkey urinates on a flower bed full of tulip bulbs.

Equally compelling are the author’s descriptions of the tulip’s early history, moving from wilds of central Asia into the pleasure gardens of the Middle East, particularly Turkey, where the obsession was mostly among the royalty.

I have to admit that tulips aren’t my favorite flower bulb. They are deer candy around here, which is why I prefer daffodils, alliums and spring ephemerals. So while I never buy tulip bulbs, I always have at least a few in the garden through my tulip rescue program. I make note of anyone who has a pot of forced bulbs in their office (our student horticulture club at Cornell always sells a bunch) and drop by when they start to fade and ask, “Are you just going to compost those? If so, I’ll take them off your hands.” You can read more about their fate here.

rescued tulips