Mellow Yellow


It’s a riotous time in the garden. Not really mellow yellow.


I’d like more oranges and reds next year if I can find candidates that work in my wet clay. Perhaps helenium, dahlias in gravel mounds. Lots of things want to grow along the edges of the deep gravel paths, so I’ve been toying with the idea of introducing small gravel “island” plantings.  Maybe. Don’t know if I’ll actually do it.


It’s not all yellow. Mauves, purples, the copper of aging filipendula blossoms, and plenty of green.


I’m wanting to make some major intervention next year. Perhaps more than planting changes–a structural change, inserting a large square into the middle of the tumult, formality amidst chaos, paving with a quiet pool at the center.























See the structure of the house chimney? The clean lines and visual weight introduce a sense of quiet and tranquility.


As does the reflecting pool and surrounding gravel paving. Something like that–but different–at the very center of the tumult.





















































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30 thoughts on “Mellow Yellow

  1. A bit of architecture in the garden? Do it! Bring it up with Carrie Preston. She has a great eye. Sense of scale, placement, material … She will steer you in the right direction.

    -her newest fan

  2. Now that’s an interesting proposal. Your garden is noted for its ‘natural’ planting, and it is very unobtrusive and full of beauty. It fascinates me therefore that you feel the need to punctuate it with structure / formality. My eye always looks for structure and balance – a sense of harmony I suppose. Will you loose something of its wild beauty by doing this? I think not – the contrast will enhance the effect.”

    1. I’m not sure, Paul. I haven’t made a firm decision yet, but I understand myself well enough to know I want to continue this experiment, and that means change, most probably. It is all about contrast, tension, and rest.

    1. Michael, as the garden begins to fade into that “in between” time when it looks sort of blah, I realize more structure would help carry it through the seasonal ups and downs. I’ll probably want to start this in late fall, if I decide to go forward. The question is, exactly what will I go forward with? On second thought, it’s more than change for the sake of interest. I mean the reason for the change has to be more significant. I have to find out what that is.

  3. For introducing red, how about some Canna indica (“Indian Shot”) — with the smaller blooms, not the big hybrids. They’re probably not hardy, but neither are dahlias. And they like “moisture retentive” soil.

    1. Sounds like a good idea. I imagine Canna doesn’t like much competition or being crowded by other plants. I’m not sure why I think that. Do you think it could be successfully mixed in closely with large competitive plants?

      1. Since they’re not hardy and would have to be set out every year, you could carve out a sq. foot or two for each to start out in. I have some close in with Victorian sage, and they do OK, as long as they don’t dry out. If you can find them cheap, it might be worth the experiment. They hold their blooms up high where you want them, and their rigid “posture” and big leaves could be a nice contrast with the more wavy plants. If you don’t like them, they should be easy to get rid of after one season — I don’t think they could re-seed in zone 6.

        Might be nice with Sarah’s recommendation of Hibiscus coccineus, which also have something of a tropical look.

  4. Sounds terribly unnatural. I like it.

    I clicked the Mellow Yellow link, so I had Donovan singing while enjoying your images. It was a great soundtrack for this garden tour. Best!

    1. Yes, those pesky squares and right angles are so very unnatural. It might be like landing a spacecraft in the garden. Doesn’t Mellow Yellow sound like it ought to have been done by the Beatles?

  5. How interesting that you are thinking of structure in your naturalistic garden. It seems to me that we (gardeners) in the end desire to add that touch of control, that ‘formality’ does it lead in the end to the formal gardens that then we decide to sweep away again and come full circle back to ‘natural’ planting. I think you should do what you feel is right for you, your garden would soon return to the way it is now if you are disappointed with the effect.

  6. Sounds brilliant. I love and hate these ideas which come upon us. They’re exciting and mind opening. And then – until they are resolved they tantalise and haunt us day and night. How? What? Would that/this be right?

    And then the answer pops up out of nowhere…..

    I tend to find discussion with other people helps the process but doesn’t provide the solution since it has to come from ourselves and our relation with the garden.

    Did you see Holly’s post on thinkingardens? Same process…..?


    1. I’d say the idea is like trouble. It’s been percolating without a lot of thought. Then this past weekend, I was looking at a book on Mien Ruys, rather badly translated into English, and saw her shade garden with the square pool and the rough concrete coping. That brought this trouble back. I’ve been admiring her work, and wanting to remake my garden, but at my age I think that surely must be out of the question. So I’m feeling around for changes that will make it what I want even though I don’t yet know what that is. Yes, I did read Holly’s piece. It reminded me of a documentary I once watched on the “squeegee” paintings of Gerhardt Richter. He made paintings, then remade them over and over, finally arriving at a stopping point. I don’t have the link, but you can find it on the Internet. I recommend it.

  7. I love the formal square pool surrounded by gravel you created near the house. I see a glimpse of it in one of your photos. So, for what it’s worth, I’m all for another formal space — sets off the wildness, as someone else mentioned. Maybe a circle or an oval?

    Do you grow Hibiscus coccineus? More restrained than the crazy-huge saucers of the hybrids, but still fairly showy, and very red, long bloom period and tolerates wet. Takes a few years to get established, but great once it gets going. And, as you say, the Heleniums can give you rusty reds, and orange…

  8. Everything looks great – the wonderful exuberance of late summer before the collapse on the dance floor of autumn! I learn so much from your posts and comments, many thanks.

    1. Thanks, Karen. I can’t wait for autumn. Then I have some major plans. The question is whether I can motivate myself to start making some rather major changes. I guess the way to do it is one step at a time.

  9. James – gorgeous images, as always. I’m especially fond of the Inula glimpses – thank you for turning me onto that plant – and the fading Filipendula…just stunning. As for new structure…might you include a low slung roof over part of new space? It could echo the house with deep eaves. Imagine sitting in that space in the pouring rain – watching the rain spill off the roof and the plants beyond slowly bending with the weight of the storm – it’s my happy place for the day 🙂 You probably enjoy that exact experience form the house already but this would be EVEN MORE in the garden. I also like the idea of the gravel islands.

    Tall orange and red. The Canna suggestion resonates with me. ‘Intrigue’ maybe? Other tender options might be Amaranth if the flea beetles leave it alone – there’s a beet red one that was 7-8′ in my old garden and reseeded…reliably 😉 Ricinus communis may be too bold, but Pennisetum ‘Prince’ may work well with your grasses. There are giant red flowered Rheum – not sure about their cultural requirements, but I think of them next to ponds. You probably have Lobelia cardinalis already. Hesperaloe parviflora in drier spaces with Kniphofia? While it’s not red or orange or late season, what about Thalictrum rochebrunianum? It’s too tall for most folks, but would look great in your garden. Thanks for the brain bender 🙂

    1. Paul, you’re so full of ideas. That low slung roofed structure may find a place in the future. I had a visit this week from Carrie Preston. Do you know her? She’s a garden designer in The Netherlands (born in NJ and back for a reunion). She rather persuasively convinced me I should do more with all the stone native to the place, especially since I have so much lying around. Problem is, stone is heavy and difficult to manage, but I’m giving that some serious thought. We went to Chanticleer, and seeing the Hibiscus coccineus there made me realize it may be a very good plant to try (I think it’s borderline hardy here, and I’m not sure how much wet it can take). I used to grow Ricinus, but I don’t have anywhere to get it started early in the season, and finding plants ready to put out is very chancy around where we live. I’d love to use it. I heard a lot about Thalictrum ‘Elin’ from Carrie and at Chanticleer, so I think I need to give that a try, but certainly not in the wet center of the garden. Lobelia cardinalis I’ve had but it just dies out for me. Great blue lobelia is much more reliable; at least it seeds around. I’ll have to check out some of your other suggestions.

  10. I was just proselytizing to a neighbor about the darker heleniums this week. They are so sturdy and easy, and in bloom now, that I’m not sure why they aren’t more popular. My wife suggested a name change as “sneezeweed” may be a turn-off!

    1. I think the lack of popularity is at least partly attributable to their season of interest. They’re gorgeous now when sales at garden centers are slow. That flower power in May would sell some plants. They’re also tall which I personally love but can be challenging to ship and challenging for retailers. I’ve had gorgeous Helenium for sale for months (wholesale grower), but they only trickle out the door even now in full bloom. It’s my sincere hope that gardens like James’ will encourage people to embrace the spectacular second season that’s fall and all the awesome plants fall gardens allow.

    2. I almost bought 15 heleniums last week, but realized I couldn’t get them planted for two or three weeks. So they would probably die. But that’s a plant high on my shopping list. The only problem is that I don’t find the structure after blossoming of much interest; that’s the main reason I haven’t given them a try before now.

  11. I had never heard of house chimney before. Would rose mallow work in your garden? How about a shrub with bright red fruit, like cranberrybush viburnum? I definitely get the desire to veer from a naturalistic style to something more formal. Sometimes I want to replant my whole garden as a four square with a little fountain in the middle.

    1. You never heard of a chimney? I don’t understand. Yes, I have one rose mallow that does will, but the other three I planted hardly grow at all. I think I’ll give it a try right next to the pons because they are blooming now at a time when most other plants have passed flowering stage–and there is a long time to wait before autumn colors arrive, which is the high season in my garden. I understand what you mean about doing a more formal garden. At least I have my rectilinear Brooklyn garden for contrast.

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