Plum mountain

Thoughtful entries

May 16, 2011 · Comments Off on Thoughtful entries

Entering your garden is an event.  The outside world is left behind; the comfort of home beckons.  The entryway marks this transition and, in a contemplative landscape, brings us quickly to awareness of the present moment.

A good entry design distinguishes the “outside” from the “inside” of the garden.  There are numerous ways to do this: with a change of materials for the walkway from the sidewalk or driveway; with an arbor; with trees or shrubs to direct you toward the walkway; or with raised beds that guide you onto a path.  One of our favorite means of entry is the front gate.

A gate can be any material or style, so long as it sets the tone of the garden beyond.  Here is the entry gate to a home in Boulder, Colorado, before re-design:

Though it showed the way to the entry and helped to mark off the garden from the drive, the gate was too small for the grander entry beyond.  The plants were overgrown and didn’t offer much visual interest or invitation.

The re-design called for a longer, more prominent wall, and a gateway that more accurately reflected the scale of the home beyond.  The entry outside the gate was completely re-worked, with a cheerful garden of rocks and plants that now set the tone for the entry.  The sight of this new gate gives the visitor the pleasure of anticipation of a different experience and marks off the garden as a contemplative space.

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Blame it on the ferns!

April 28, 2011 · Comments Off on Blame it on the ferns!

There are certain times of day and certain lights when even I, an experienced plant collector, stop in my tracks and gaze in wonder. That magical space, when a garden somehow touches a nerve, lies at the heart of contemplative gardening. For me, both nature and the garden are a kind of escape from the humdrum, and a discovery of new things. But also I feel as though they are paths that lead ultimately to one’s own heart.

Horticulture was not my first career. In fact, I never anticipated spending the past three decades at a public garden. My schooling was in classics and Ancient Chinese. I was captivated by the poetry of Tu Fu, Wang Wei and the lives of gentlemen who lived in the Tang and Sung dynasties.

I studied Chinese at the University of Colorado in Boulder, at Middlebury College and finally at Cornell. The spring of 1974 must have been especially refulgent in Ithaca. After the fierce Upstate New York winter, the gradual warming and the misty skies of April, with diffused sunlight and more and more flowers everywhere, completely distracted me from my studies. I found myself walking out of my way through neighborhoods just to see flowers, and taking more and more field trips to nearby falls and parks. One day I noticed a path that seemed to lead into a woodlot. I began walking along a stream bed, where the shrubs and trees were gauzed with green buds and there were masses of white trilliums showing up in the woods, as well as hepatica, banks covered with yellow trout lilies and other entrancing wildflowers. I don’t know if I kept walking for an hour or three or more: I was completely captivated by the hardwood forest in early season glory, with birds chirping everywhere and spring pulsing in everything around me, and in my ears and in my heart.

A cliff loomed up ahead (I love cliffs!), and as I approached I noticed some green lacework in the crevices (what could it be?). As I came closer, I saw for the first time “in the chlorophyll” (since ferns don’t have flesh) the maidenheadspleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes), an incredibly delicate fern with bright Irish green pinnules and black stems forming slightly asymmetrical starfish-like patterns along the crevices. Shazam! I was transfixed–gazing at the perfect,delicate, living tracery on that gaunt, bleak cliff. That perfection of form in a gorgeous space is, for me, the heart of what I love in nature and seek to recreate in a garden.

Shortly thereafter I quit the University. I loved (and still love) classics and books, but in that moment of gazing at that perfect fern in its perfect setting, I realized my heart was really in nature and gardening. I began to pursue avenues that would lead to a livelihood, and ultimately to my career in public horticulture.The reality of plant, rock and sky was just too powerful. I suppose it was those ferns’ doing.

panayoti kelaidisPanayoti Kelaidis is Senior Curator and Director of Outreach at the Denver Botanic Gardens in Denver, Colorado.  He shares his 50 years of expertise in plants and plant-hunting both at the DBG and on occasional plant-hunting expeditions to many parts of the globe.  You can read his blog at:

For some photographs of the type of fern that changed Panayoti’s life, please go to

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