Garden Designers Roundtable: Our Home Gardens

This month on the Garden Designers Roundtable, we have a special treat for you. Rather than exploring a specific garden design topic, we thought we’d let you peek into our own gardens.

OK, I have to admit that before I became a professional garden designer, I guess I assumed that all garden designers had these amazing home gardens. You know, something that epitomizes the best of design and is worthy of being showcased in every garden design magazine around.

Now that I’ve met so many professional landscape designers, and talked to them about their own gardens, I can tell you that many of us have gardens that are not exactly show pieces. Like the cobbler whose children have no shoes,tending to our own gardens often is not a high priority, especially during our busiest seasons.

So with that in mind, I’ll pull back the curtain and reveal what my own garden, a wooded acre located in southwestern Connecticut (zone 6b), actually looks like outside of all those staged photos you may have seen on this blog.

I think it can best be summed up in nine words…


I consider my garden a laboratory. I like to try out plant combinations, push sun/shade exposures and generally just fiddle around with the same plant in different locations and watch what happens. Last year I bought a bunch of landscape plugs to be able to experiment on a larger scale. I got Tiarella cordifolia ‘Running Tapestry’, Calamagrostis brachytricha and Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’.  I’ve learned the most from observing ‘Espresso’.

After one growing season, I’d say it is not nearly as deer-resistant as the species, it’s pretty drought tolerant and the color of the leaves, described as red-brown, are not overly attractive. They’re a bit too brown and washed out for my taste, especially with more than a few hours of sun each day. I’ll give it another few years before declaring ‘Yay’ or ‘Nay’ but I do know I’m glad I experimented in my own garden before rushing off to plant them in a client’s garden.

Geranium maculatum 'Espresso' plugs

Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’ plugs – the experiment begins.


I’m the kind of person who likes to surround myself with objects that mean something to me and have sentimental value. Inside my home, you’ll find lots of collections of framed photos on the walls,  not a print that color coordinates with the sofa fabric. My garden is the same way. I don’t have a lot of garden ornaments but the ones I do have are full of sentimental value. This old weathervane is from my mother-in-law’s garden. After she died, we decided to give it a home in our garden. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of her and how much she loved her garden.


If asked, I’d have to admit that one my favorite trees in my garden was my coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’). Bought on a whim at a big box store several years ago, it’s ever-changing look quickly fascinated me. It was just starting to come into its own and I could see more than just hints of the spectacular tree it would become. So when a freak snowstorm in October proved too much for it to weather, I felt like I’d lost a friend.

My beloved coral bark maple splits under the weight of a freak October snowstorm


Last summer, on a beautiful August day, a tree fell on our house! There was no wind or rain…no reason for the healthy tree to have fallen that day. Luckily, the damage was minimal because the tree basically ‘hugged’ the roof line. We needed a new roof and some gutters but, all in all, I felt like the garden was watching out for us.

It’s not every day that a tree falls on your house…


One of my favorite parts about our garden is that we have two oak trees that are the perfect distance apart to hang a hammock. There is nothing quite like lounging in a hammock that is suspended between two trees. I do some of my best thinking about clients’ garden design plans (aka napping) in this very spot.

A perfect spot to take a break


I’m an advocate for using native plants in all types of designed gardens. And my garden is no exception. One of the side benefits of native plants is the beautiful butterflies they attract.

Echinacea purpurea is just one of the native plants in our garden


While I love native plants, I also appreciate the beauty of exotic (non-native) plants. One of my favorite non-natives is my groundcover maple (Acer palmatum ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’)Mine is just a baby (only about 2′ wide) but it will eventually get to be about 8′ wide. Here’s a look at my groundcover maple on the top and a mature specimen on the bottom.

 Groundcover Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’)


As I said in my opening remarks, my garden is often neglected, especially in the spring when my business is so brisk. Here’s a peek at all the weeds and seedlings that are waiting to pulled. Glamorous, aren’t they??

Not exactly what you’d expect to see in a glamour shot for a garden design magazine


Here in southwestern Connecticut, we have a big problem with deer. While most parts of the state have about 16 deer per square mile, here in Fairfield county we have 4 times that amount, on average 62 deer per square mile. It’s not unusual to find 6 – 8 deer wandering around my garden most mornings. That means I have lots of experience with deer resistant plants, that I spray my fair share of deer repellents and that I take a perverse satisfaction in running around in my PJs, arms flailing all over the place, trying to scare away the deer.

Deer in my Connecticut garden

Scared? Not a chance. But I am interrupting their breakfast.

For more peeks inside the garden of a professional landscape designer, I invite you to visit the links below to read the posts from my fellow Roundtablers …

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA

Acer palmatum ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’: An Update

Groundcover Maple at O'Brien's Nursery in Granby

Back in August, I wrote about Acer palmatum ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’, aka the ‘groundcover maple’.  I first encountered this unusual maple tree during a private tour of O’Brien Nursery in Granby, CT.   I fell in love with the ground cover maple even before I saw it.  As soon as John, the owner of O’Brien’s, mentioned it, I knew I had to have one.  Who wouldn’t want another Japanese maple tree in their garden?

For months now, I’ve been waiting to see what my groundcover maple will look like in the fall.  John said the fall color is not reliably consistent  but should be a bright orange color.   As the rest of my garden has been embracing autumn,  the little maple seemed to be oblivious to the calendar.  Until today.  Here’s what he (funny, but I think of many of my other plants as females) looks like now…not exactly bright orange but I still love him!

Acer palmatum ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’ fall foliage color

To learn more about O’Brien’s and see some incredible photos of John’s display garden, please check out these links:

Heaven written by Cyndy at Gardening Aslyum

♦  A Hidden Gem for Hosta Lovers  written by me

A Hosta Habitat, But So Much More written by Joene Hendry of joenesgarden

A Groundcover Maple?

Yes, Virginia, there is groundcover maple!  And, I have seen it with my own two eyes.  And, better yet, I just bought one and planted it in my garden.  I consider myself a moderate plant geek but I’d never heard of the elusive ‘groundcover maple’ until a recent trip to O’Brien’s Nursery in Granby, CT.  

Groundcover maple at O'Brien's is about 5' wide and 18" tall. It's about 8 years old.


Acer palmatum ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’ is a dwarf Japanese maple with a sprawling habit that eventually forms a dense groundcover about 8′ – 10′ wide.  According to Japanese Maples:  The Complete Guide to Selection and Cultivation , the word Yatsubusa  is a general term meaning dwarf in Japanese.  So the cultivar name ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’ is simply referring to the dwarf version of the larger Japanese maple  ‘Kiyohime’.  

A tyoical leaf is about the size of my finger tip.


Unlike some other dwarf Japanese maples, ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’ is very cold hardy and grows fairly quickly.  (Many sources consider it hardy in zones 5/6 – 8).  The leaves of ‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’ are very small.  They emerge  green with pink edges in the spring and reportedly turn a bright orange in the fall. I’ll post pictures of the fall foliage in a few months.  As you can see, new branches are decidedly red, adding to the ornamental value of this mini tree. The branches are also quite dense and grow in a horizontal habit, increasing the tree’s winter interest. 

‘Yatsubusa Kiyohime’ is certainly a rare and unique tree.  Pair it with large-leaved plants that appreciate some protection from the afternoon sun, to help accentuate its diminutive size.  Consider brunnera, hosta, ligularia and dwarf oakleaf hydrangea to name just a few options.