Garden Conversations in the Digital Age

By January 19, 201012 Comments
by Julie Moir Messervy

We revisit some of our readers’ emails, letters, and photographs of the past year and take at look their design projects that have delighted and inspired us.


Ellen’s vegetable garden. Photo: Ellen Clancy.

Many of you who’ve subscribed to our blog over the past year have written in with images of your own work that we’d like to share in this week’s post. First up is a fun project that Ellen Clancy, a talented vegetable gardener, did for me. I visited her Boston-area garden in early spring last year, before any seeds had been planted there. With its handsome fence and rectangular cobble-edged beds, the garden was attractive, even without plants.


Stills from Ellen and Peter’s video of their garden’s growth. Still photos: Ellen Clancy.

But I wanted to see it filled up, so Ellen and her husband, Peter Doyle, offered to photograph it every few weeks as it grew. Here’s the result–a 3-minute video that Ellen created. If you don’t have time to view it, here are some screen shots instead.

Once the fence was installed, Frederick had time for fun details like backyard family dinners with a hanging window to frame the view. Photo: Frederick Perez.

Next are pictures sent in at my request by Frederick Perez, a Long Island gardener who first wrote to me about the old stockade fence along his property line that had begun to look more like “toothpicks” than a fence. Needing to hide an old trailer and some car parts on the other side, he planted hollies and other evergreens to block the view and his fence. After seeing pictures of how it looked, I suggested that he install a cedar board fence, which he left natural to match the house.


Frederick’s installed fieldstone path. Photo: Frederick Perez.

A year or so later, he wrote to ask about using decomposed granite in his backyard in place of lawn. I wrote back, “I’m not a big fan of decomposed granite for a variety of reasons. One is that it requires edging so that it doesn’t migrate into the lawn or nearby beds, which it will do over time otherwise. Edging’s expensive–the best to use is steel edging, but it gets pricey. And I don’t like the look of plastic edging (or anything plastic) in a natural landscape. Instead, I’d suggest that you sink some flat fieldstones into the lawn so that you can mow over them but they’ll lead people where you want them to go. Don’t use slate–much too slippery, thin, and geometric. Instead, see if you can’t buy a pallet of natural flat fieldstone.

Frederick has created places to sit, to walk, and to play–places to be–in his landscape of home.
Photos: Frederick Perez.

Last year I wrote the following to Frederick, “Thanks in part to your letter, I’m working on another book for homeowners called “Home Outside” that’s all about the kinds of things you wrote me about–how to deal with neighbors and neighborhoods, driveways and garages, decks and terraces, plants and special features. It won’t be out for a year and a half, but it’s been great to work on. I’m hoping it will help all kinds of homeowners out there solve real everyday landscaping problems.” Thanks for your inspiration, Fred!

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • So nice to see more gardens. Fred’s garden looks good. (Funny, I’m tearing out holly babies all over the garden. The robins are gorging on the berries now that they’ve softened up after multiple freezes.)

  • Deborah Riemer says:

    Ellen’s video of the stages of her garden’s growth is inspiring! Loved the well thought out placement of plants creating structure that filled in as time went by
    Would love to know what she planted in that center pot that eventually grew upwards to envelop the obelisk and what grew around it.

  • ellen clancy says:

    thx for the kind words Deborah – the plant in the center pot is a rare and unusual sweet pea called “Electric Blue” – the blue hue of the blossoms is amazingly beautiful. It grows 3-4′ high. I got the seeds from Renee’s Garden ( and it’s a cinch to grow!

  • Cyndy says:

    Nice reminder of what’s underneath the snow and mud, and inspiration to keep refining our outside homes!

  • Frederick’s hanging window to frame the view is amplified whimsy into wonder. What a great idea! I’m struggling to understand “moon gates.” Any recommendations?

  • Frederick J. Perez says:

    Dear Ellen and Peter, i love your garden. One day i hope to have a bigger yard to put in an herb,vegetable and flower garden.Thanks for the pleasure of watching yours grow.And Rev. White, thank you for your appreciation. It is amazing how someone else s trash can become treasure.Come spring clean up the neighbors get rid of all kinds of old windows. Afterwards my kids colored the pains with a stained glass paint and did their own flowers and butterflies.

  • ellen clancy says:

    Frederick – you’ve done amazing things with your garden spaces, very inspirational! i love all your thoughtfully defined areas. You seem to be a master at making opportunities out of challenges! Have you thought of doing some herbs in containers? my husband is a great cook and i thought i could make a contribution by growing fresh herbs, so that’s how my garden started. Herbs are so easy to do in small pots and there’s nothing more rewarding than fresh basil, dill, thyme, sage, etc. as part of your daily meals. Even baby greens are easy to do!

  • Val says:

    Great to see a dialogue developing! We’d love to include more reader feedback and photos in future blogs–keep ’em coming!

    –Julie & Val

  • Frederick J. Perez says:

    Dear Ellen ; yes, i know what you mean about the herbs in pots. I have tried basil with success but not many others.I call my house the little house on the plot so every spot counts. Thanks for the encouragement.By the way, James Beard has a great pesto recipe. If you would like it let me know.

  • ellen clancy says:

    Frederick, yes, send along the recipe. i tried making pesto for the first time last fall, but i would love to try Beard’s recipe – i always plant too much basil, but then that’s quite a lovely vice to have. Can i talk you into planting some sage this spring? it’s the herb i keep coming back to – it’s the secret of my potato salad and oh, so many other concoctions – you won’t regret finding a sunny spot for a couple of sages.

  • Frederick J. Perez says:

    Hi Ellen, here it is-
    4cups basil leaves
    3cloves garlic
    1/2cup pignoli
    1/2 cup Italian parsley
    1 teaspooon salt
    1/2-1cup oil
    1/2 cup pecorino or Parmesan
    Blend it all up and enjoy,we’ve never been disappointed.
    Recipe by James Beard

  • Frederick J. Perez says:

    On my property i do have a mixing of perennials and herbs.Sage does very well along with the thyme,winter savory and parsley. I find my basil does better in pots,i don’t know why.I haven’t had much luck with rosemary.I’ll keep experimenting.
    Have a blessed day

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