Sunday, July 20, 2014

A TV makeover garden designer whose own garden took more than two days

One of the things I like most about being the area's chronicler of residential gardens, is that I still get astounded, in slacked-jawed awe, of a new spectacular garden that I never knew existed in our area. Such is the case of going on the Snyder Clevehill Garden View tour a couple weeks ago.

I came across the garden of Peter BonSey, a genuine TV show gardener. Peter was the garden designer on TLC's season 1 (2002-03) of While You Were Out, a reality series makeover show whose gimmick was that the redecoration was kept secret from the homeowner. Peter is/was also the founder of The English Gardener, a well-known Buffalo area landscape design firm. But he's also been a butcher, cabin boy, Naval officer, real estate salesperson, construction company owner, teacher, actor, chemical company owner, head hunter, convention planner, graphic artist, printing production manager, radio show host, and writer, among other things. He's retired from it all now, having mostly accomplished his goal of "...becoming an interesting old man." He does still do the occasional talk/lecture for groups.

Matching stacked brick pedestals for annuals
flank the end of the driveway. Why haven't
I done this already? Stacking stones
is one of the few abilities I have.
It was a drizzly day for a garden tour so I had Peter for a bit almost by myself. He showed me around his garden. I knew it was someone whose interest in garden was more than a relaxing hobby. It's a lifestyle. Half the front yard is an immaculate raised bed vegetable garden interspersed with his own sculptural pieces made from stacked slate, with espaliers, and potted annuals on stacked brick pedestals. The back was a winding-pathed gallery of unique plants, and unique use of plants, with art and ideas unlike any other garden I've ever been in. My kinda' garden.

I like to think of my own garden as lass an organized manicured garden and more a laboratory for garden design ideas. And that's what I saw in his – though his botanical experimentation, construction ability, and creative and artistic sense are well beyond my own. I could have stayed there for hours.

Here I'll show you some features of his garden and what I remembered of what he told me about each.
Neat gravel paths surround this "allotment-style" garden of simple wooden raised beds, with supports for climbing plants. He told me what his vegetable garden yield was in pounds, but it was crazy high and I don't remember what it was.
He created this (and other) stacked slate sculptures in and amongst the vegetables.
Even vegetables like to be surrounded by art, I suppose.
...and a sundial. Vegetable gardens need sundials too.
Looking back toward the street, outside the chain link fence, which actually gets barely noticed, is a row of annuals in planters on pedestals.
Peter has many espaliers going. I cannot even remember what these were.
I should have written notes, but felt that was a bit impolite while having a conversation.
If I get back there, I'll do a more in-depth "interview."
Another free-form espalier. These flanked both sides of the "vase" seen in the next photo.
The focal point of the front of the house is this stacked slate "vase" made from the slate from an area church roof that was being thrown into a dumpster. After getting permission, he spent many an evening hauling slate from the work site to his house.
To separate "rooms" of the backyard, there were more dry-stacked pedestal with plants.
I love this idea and will find ways to incorporate them into my garden.
One thing I remember he told me was that he "...hated corners." I didn't ask if it was a fear, phobia, or funny fickleness. He placed this mirror in the corner of the yard, angled the top forward and tilted it slightly to get the effect of a continued path beyond his fence. Love this idea.
Another dry-stacked brick pedestal, this time IN the garden to add height
and to fill in a blank spot with one of his many tropicals.
He's got a great mix of tropicals, perennials and annuals throughout the garden. Most of the reseeders he lets do what they want, until they do what he doesn't want. It's a very controlled chaos.
It's not a successful garden if you can't sit out in it and enjoy it. He built this octagonal pavilion for outdoor dining. The paths he's on is grass, lined on one side by brick and the other by corten steel strips keeping crisp edges between grass and garden. He went with grass paths here because beside it, on the other side of the narrow planting bed, there is already a gravel path, and he didn't want all gravel all the time.

Having the unnatural aversion to corners led him to this stone wall solution for the corner of the property - with built-in planters top and bottom. No dry-stacking here.
Lanterns and wrought iron finish off the curved stone wall.
Looking back from whence we came. To the right you can see his greenhouse where he overwinters the tropicals. It has a koi pond in it to keep the moisture up for the plants.
he's not a particular fan of "tall plant in back, short plants in the front" garden design. He likes the multi-layered natural feel of plants popping up where THEY think they'll grow well.
Against the fence is a row of pollarded Rose of Sharon trees. He keeps them trimmed down, and all but strips them every Fall. The result is small, manageable trees with great color, texture, and the perfect size for a small backyard.
Here he is showing me the rooting cups he slipped over the young branches of the Rose of Sahron.
With these he's effectively "air rooting" the branch. Inside the cup, the branch is forming roots, Once the roots fill the cup, he cuts the branch below the cup and ends up with a 3-4' tall rooted tree that is the genetic match to the tree he took it from. THIS is the solution I'm looking for to replace the dwarf pear tree that died on me this past winter. I can grow the identical type pear tree now, rather than getting another pear tree that does not match the existing ones. Eureka!
Looking over the back yard, I see how effective NOT having a corner can be. With the mirror back there, it makes the garden seem larger.
One last look at the pollarded Rose of Sharon.
Peter admiring yet another espaliered tree on the side of the house.
The trimmed hawthorn tree "hedge" opposite the espalier above. The extreme trimming makes it a privacy hedge of great texture and color that changes throughout the year. Certainly gives this narrow alley its personality.
Eggs. Just, well, because.
The last remaining wall of the house. I think I like this garden so much
because I see many of my ideas in here (done better!), as well as ideas I want to steal.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A garden with nice jugs

Sorry. Had to go there (I cannot help myself).

I've got lots of posts in me, but alas, no time to write them Garden Walk Buffalo is in another week, and the National Garden Festival is up and running. I've got a bonafide HGTV star's garden to share (back when there were Gs in HGTV), as well as the best themed garden I've ever been in, and not a fairy garden - but a fairie VILLAGE. But you'll have to wait.

Sally Cunningham was by to film a short bit on
garden tourism for AAA this week. Remember –
the camera adds ten pounds and, there had to be, like,
ten cameras on me...
So far my garden has been on one bus tour (another coming next week), two open gardens, it's been filmed on live TV for Sally Cunningham's garden segment, filmed for an AAA garden tourism video, been shown in the Buffalo News twice, and a photographer is coming to photograph my window boxes later today. And next week is the big kahuna – more than 3,000 are expected to come through my yard on Saturday and Sunday. Garden Walk Buffalo will attract more than 60,000, so that's a mere sliver of the crowds.

But this post is about jugs – big ones and small ones. And vases, pots, and exquisite pottery too. I visited an Open Garden today in Hamburg, NY and I fell in love with the gardens of artist Vicki Warhol (good name for an artist). Not only does she have a great and glorious collection of hostas, but and even greater (and more glorious) collection of pottery. And the pottery seems as though it is paired with a curator's eye with the plants. This garden was bliss for this art director. Rather than me yak about it, take a peak at just some of her jugs – without commentary. I'll just get myself in more trouble.

Monday, July 7, 2014

My marble and granite area rug, or, how I spent my Fourth of July weekend

Lord help me, I've become a serial DIYer.

It started with me and my daughter going through
Italian Marble and Granite's dumpster for scraps,
roughing out the design to make sure we had enough.
I blame it on Garden Walk Buffalo sponsor Italian Marble and Granite. This year they've offered to any gardener on the Walk free marble and granite countertop scraps to anyone that wants them for a creative project. On top of that, they will judge the projects in advance of the Walk and a winner will be announced. The winner will receive a $500 gift certificate for a custom marble or granite project in their home.

I really wasn't going to do another large-scale project before the Walk. I did my hanging succulent garden, and that was going to be my major Garden Walk project this year. I try to do one unique garden feature each year, with the deadline being the Walk. This makes two.

I've wanted to do something like this for years, but how often does someone come along and say, "You can have all the granite and marble scraps you want, you just have to come here to pick them up." They couldn't have made it easier for me if they'd tried. Well, okay, they could have delivered it, but, hey.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

My Rochester Buffalo-style Garden Art Sale purchase

The big steel and glass leaf, in blue, on the left was this year's purchase. Last year's is on the right. The leaves are a collaboration between Rochester NY-area steel artist Kathy Kosel and glass artist Tom Zachman.

Both had booths at the National Garden Festival's Buffalo-style Garden Art Sale held last Sunday here in Buffalo.

I love my new leaf. Hopefully next year, I can buy another to complete the collection!

To the right here, you can see them in context with the rest of the ever-getting-busier gardens. In the foreground is my own copper creation - a heuchera (coral bell) fountain. It's hard to see because it's camouflaged in a bed of huechera!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

It's garden tour season! AAA garden tours around Buffalo (and beyond)...

Plant Collector's Tour - the Shadrack's Smug Creek Gardens for daylilies and hostas.
Sally Cunningham, a woman
out standing in her field.
The National Garden Festival has a full slate of luxury garden tours this season – starting soon! This year, they've been re-branded the Sally Cunningham Garden Discovery Tours, as Sally Cunningham, WIVB Channel 4 TV gardening personality, Buffalo News columnist, Buffalo Spree Magazine writer, book author,  garden center expert, and horticultural consultant, has been hired to organize and host these tours along with garden tours outside of the region, including the Hudson Valley and New York City (she just led a full tour to the Chelsea Flower Show in May). There will also be a Caribbean cruise!

The tours are a project of AAA and its tour division, Horizon Club Tours. The bus tours are aboard AAA's luxury motorcoach – including wi-fi, restroom and comfy seats. Each motorcoach tour includes Sally as your guide, refreshments/meals vary, and some trips include shopping opportunities. All promise to be a good time – laugh along with Sally and learn a lot too!

Touring gardens by motorcoach and a knowledgeable guide is a great way to see gardens – no crowds from the weekend garden tours; the gardeners are available to talk to an learn from; there's no time pressure of trying to get in dozens of gardens like on a weekend tour; you'll make immediate friends with dozens of fellow travelers; food, drink (and shopping) needs are met (depending upon the tour, obviously); and nothing beats a guide that knows their stuff! And a bus driver that does all the driving for you – no worries about timing, directions, parking and more.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Buffalo-style Garden Art Sale this weekend!

The third annual Buffalo-style Garden Art Sale is happening this weekend - Sunday, June 29, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Delware Park Lodge, 84 Parkside Avenue, Buffalo.

We have 39 or 40 vendors of arts and crafts related to the garden. To participate, you have to be a creator, or vendor of items inspired by the garden or nature. Most vendors are artists that create art for the garden - sculptures, furniture, obelisks, birdbaths, wind chimes, birdhouses, glass work and so on. But materials from which items are made are wood, steel, glass, stone, copper and more.

Purple Chair-ity's planter chairs.
I am one of the many organizers of the event. When I say many, there really are just six or seven of us. We have the full support of Buffalo's National Garden Festival (which really means we have the support of Visit Buffalo Niagara, our visitors bureau), as well as great planning support, and the space to use at no charge, from the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Another garden art acquisition

My brother and brother-in-law own a couple apartment buildings in Binghamton, NY. In one of the garages, they found some carved wood – large pieces of carved wood – carved by a former tenant and left behind. This one is six feet tall. There were a few others that had a horizontal orientation. If they're still there for my next visit, I may be tempted to take those too.

This totem they were going to burn in the family campfire a few weeks ago. Being the scavenger that I am, I purloined it from its impending torching to do something with it in my garden. There were also dozens of carved wooden sticks, all carved in different patterns, all about two feet long. I have to figure out what to do with those as well.

Buffalo gardens are becoming more and more well known for their re-purposed and/or found art. This certainly qualifies.

I think I'll poke around the basement and see what color wood stains I have that I could stain it with. Then I'll put a protective coat of polyurethane. Then the tough part. Where to put it.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The well-hung succulents

The succulent frame, my winter project is now 99% complete. I hung it on the wall of the house this week. It was too heavy – especially after the occasional heavy rains we've had in the last few weeks. My neighbor Eric tried to help, but it was obvious that it was going to take four men with sturdy backs, strong hearts, healthy knees, and strong shoulders.

All my friends are my age. I don't know any with sturdy backs, strong hearts, healthy knees, and strong shoulders. So I did it myself.

I bought some heavy-duty eyelet screws and screwed them deeply into the wall just below the window. i used the straps with buckles from my kayak ties and lashed the frame to the eye bolts. Then I inched the frame into place onto the cleat I had bolted to the wall weeks before. It was still sweat-inducing work, but I managed to do it by myself – every second expecting it to fall to the ground smashing fantastically and ruining months of work.

I looked the next morning and it was still there. No budging. I only now have to do some spot painting of the frame where there was some chipping.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The bell tolls for Fathers Day

We've been searching for the perfect bell (for years) to use with our "Ring bell, if no answer, pull weeds." mosaic plaque – hand made for us by my friend Siobhan of Siobhan's Magical Garden Transformations in Florida, formerly of Buffalo, formerly my boss.

This Father's Day was the day. My wife found it on a trip to Germany and had to carry it in her luggage for three days. I think my daughter has still yet to chip in on it. I'm staying out of that transaction.

For Garden Walk Buffalo this year, I might take the clapper out of it so more weeds get pulled.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Garden media whore...

My coral bell fountain in The Buffalo News.
Last week was a huge garden media week for us here at the Charlier Gardens. It started off with a quarter-page photo of my handmade copper coral bell fountain in the bed of coral bells (heuchera) in The Buffalo News, along with a quote from me about what the "talk" will be for this year's Garden Walk - the article written by lifestyle editor and columnist Susan Martin. Spoiler alert: topic of discussion this year will be the long and harsh winter.
The online version of The Buffalo News Article
The photo and quote were also on the online version of the newspaper.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Not as hellish of a strip this year

From my office window.
Last year's project, the start of reclaiming the hellstrip (the area between sidewalk and street) has has been, so far, a success. Starting with nothing but a green slice of a mix of clover, creeping Charlie, purslane, dandelions, mushrooms, and even a smattering of grass, it was a harsh bit of real estate for grass to grow well. 

Mostly by dividing grasses and hostas from other areas of the garden, with a few purchased acquisitions, I filled in the majority of the strip.

Next up, I want to add a small area of brick, or concrete pavers where the garbage cans spend a day waiting to be picked up each week. at the end of the driveway.

I also want to line the street side with pavers as well, so people getting out of their cards don't have to step into a garden. Lastly, I want to add a row of lavendar along the sidewalk to mirror the lavender across from it on the other side of the sidewalk. Rather than buying lavender, I'm thinking about rooting my own from the plants that are there already. That way I know it'll be the same exact cultivar. There's a lot of different lavenders out there.


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