Garden Design

Beatrix Farrand – designer extraordinaire

Have you been to a garden or landscape designed by Beatrix Farrand? If you’ve walked the campus of Yale or wandered the grounds of Harkness Park or Hill-Stead Museum you know she was a landscape and garden designer extraordinaire.

In December 2014, the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame released a tribute video to Beatrix Farrand, who lived from 1872 to 1959. Farrand was one of the first women to practice landscape architecture and she left us with beautiful spaces to enjoy.


Her designs are timeless and deserve to be protected, tended and enjoyed. Farrand’s reach certainly extended outside Connecticut, as you’ll find when visiting The Beatrix Farrand Society website. But some of her wonderful work can easily be enjoyed during day trips in CT.

As noted in The Connecticut Gardens of Beatrix Farrand in Connecticut Magazine, Farrand preferred to be described as a landscape gardener.

“A garden, large or small, must be treated in the Impressionist manner,” she once wrote. “Plants are to the gardener what his palette is to the painter.”

That’s a garden design concept that speaks to me, and one we can all follow to help us paint our gardens with plants.


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A snowy day

In case you haven’t heard … southeastern New England, including the section of Connecticut where I live and garden, is having a snowy day.

A little storm, fondly called the blizzard of 2015, moved in last night and is expected to continue into this afternoon. So far 18″ to 24″ of powdery snow is covering our landscape and, as of 10:30 am, it’s still snowing. Drifting makes it difficult to determine exactly how much snow we’ve received, but snowdrifts range from 24″ to 36″ against the exterior doors. Not too big a deal, this snow is dry and easy to move; we’ve had much worse … namely the blizzard of 2013 that dropped nearly 4 feet of snow on us.

I’m glad I grabbed some garden planning photos before this storm hit. There’s quite a difference in how one of our front yard gardens looked a few days ago …

Front view toward our nearest neighbor, before the blizzard of 2015.

Front view toward our nearest neighbor, before the blizzard of 2015.

and how it looks this morning.

Front yard garden during the blizzard of 2015.

Front yard garden during the blizzard of 2015.

It’s tough to add to a garden design when its features are buried under snow! Since I regularly shoot photos of our entire landscape, I have plenty to work from as I continue my garden dreaming in January.

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Eye-catching borders in spite of deer

In spite of deer. This is the main gardening theme I live with. If you have the same issue … deer browsing your perennial beds in spite of you planting supposedly deer-resistant plants and shrubs … read on.

The photos below represent 16 years of trial and error. I’ve planted and lost to deer more plants than I want to acknowledge. But I’ve still managed to eek out some eye-catching borders in the foundation and other mixed perennial and shrub beds on our property.

My friend refers to this as Darwinian gardening – survival of the fittest – but I’ve labeled it Deerwinian gardening – survival in spite of deer.

Perennial bed that survives in deer territory.

Perennial bed that survives in deer territory.

The major shrubs include boxwood, mounding inkberry (Ilex glabra ‘Compacta’), and azalea and rhododendron that I fence during winter months. In the corner near the downspout is caryopteris, a relatively new addition that, in its third season, is now beginning to obtain some size.

Perennials include common lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina) and, at the far end not seen in this photo the Helen von Stein variety that does not bloom; Salvia (I think it’s nemorosa ‘May Night’); lavender, Maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoides ‘Arctic Fire’); Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria); foxglove (Digitalis); and nepeta. A few years ago I added meadow rue (Thalictrum), planting it behind the center-most boxwood, but deer manage to find and top it every spring. It blooms occasionally in later summer, but never achieves the height I hoped for … sigh.

Farther along in this bed, but not clear in this photo, are Siberian and bearded iris, peonies, and more boxwood, lamb’s ear, foxglove, lavender, Pieris andromeda, a Rose of Sharon that sees deer browse of its lower leaves but manages to bloom above the deer-browse level, and clematis that grows up the end post of the porch

The perennials listed above are repeated in the opposite bed with the addition of common sage, Campanula poscharskyana, and various varieties of allium.

The opposite bed that blooms in spite of deer.

The opposite bed that blooms in spite of deer.

I deadhead the lamb’s ear blooms when they begin to fade or get knocked askew by rain. This maintains a neater border look.

Deer are fickle and have varied taste. Deer in your neck of the woods may like or shun a different group of plants from those listed above, but I’ve generally found they dislike most silver and gray plants and those with fuzzy leaves. Still, any newly purchased nursery plant is more likely to suffer deer-browse … the four-legged creatures seem attracted to highly-fertilized plants. I’ve even seen them munch on newly-purchased lamb’s ear.

Outside of installing a tall fence to prevent deer from reaching your gardens, trial and error is the only way to learn what local deer do and do not like. I’ve tried nearly every deer repellent on the market with limited success and now generally avoid the expense (though I do, at times, test new environmentally safe products).

The plants listed above are not the only ones deer avoid in my gardens – more on these in future posts – but, if deer are a major nemesis in your area, the list above gives you a few hints on how to have eye-catching perennial beds in spite of deer.

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