Welcome to Rooting for Ideas

My Name is Don Statham and this is my garden blog. (Seasonal Photos of Don’s Garden)

I am mad about plants, some might say obsessive! One of the points of this blog is to connect with other passionate gardeners who also like to talk about plants, garden design, garden writing and all things horticultural.

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Symbolic Chinese Garden Design Concepts

Last autumn I visited the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden in Staten Island, located within the large Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden complex with 27 buildings and beautiful grounds. The Scholar’s Garden, which is hidden within the complex, was constructed by 40 Chinese artisans from Suzhou, China, in 1998, and completed within six months. Today, the plants are mature, and while some of the hardscape is in need of repair, that hardly distracts from the beauty of the many layers of architectural details, and textured plantings, including tall stands of bamboo, pine, cherry, plum, set against the contrasting white walls. Every space I moved through was intimate, and because I could always see through an open patterned window or Moon gate to a “borrowed view” there was also a feeling of endless spaciousness. A taste of the garden beyond, becoming part of the composition of the garden I was in, is masterful. The idea of creating infinite space within a limited area is inspiring (photos 1 & 2).

Moon Gate, at the Scholar's Garden in Staten Island, transition to the next area

Photo1: Moon Gate, at the Scholar’s Garden in Staten Island, transition to the next area

2. Scholar's Garden Borrowed view through open window2

Photo2: In the Scholar’s Garden, a “borrowed view’ through a leaky (ie: open pattern) window.

The Catskills is also a perfect place to incorporate the idea of borrowing scenery as part of your garden’s composition. This concept is first mentioned in the garden manual called the Yuanye written by Ji Cheng (c. 1582-1642), a Ming Dynasty Chinese garden designer. I had used the idea many times when designing urban gardens, but I had not realized its origins. Cheng was a calligrapher, a landscape painter, and a garden designer. In 1631 he published the Yuanye The Craft of Gardens, a collection of the many garden ideas that developed in China up until the time of the publication. According to the manual there are four categories of borrowed scenery: distant borrowing (mountains, lakes); adjacent borrowing (neighboring buildings and features); upward borrowing (clouds, stars); and downward borrowing (rocks, ponds, etc.). Cheng wrote, “If one can take advantage of a neighbor’s view one should not cut off the communication, for such a ‘borrowed prospect’ is very acceptable.”
In my own Catskills garden I created a series of small enclosed spaces, or garden rooms, and had the chance to play with the idea of borrowed views. In the last of a series of rooms I planted the dark green four-foot tall Rhamnus ‘Fine Line’ hedge that frames the distant view of wildflower meadows and low lying hills. The impact is one of my favorite areas of the garden because it is unexpected (photo 3).

Rhamnus 'Fineline' hedge frames a distant "borrowed view."

Photo 3: Rhamnus ‘Fineline’ hedge frames a distant “borrowed view.”

Many of our ideas about garden planning, including concealment and surprise, come from the Chinese who believed that it adds mystery if you hide your focal points so that you catch a glimpse here and there. They like to place their main feature, usually a pond, in the center of the garden. Vantage points can be seen from inside the house, or outside on a bridge, in a pavilion, under a covered pathway, or strolling through the garden. Many of these ideas were adopted, first by the Japanese, and then traveled the globe to be translated by a variety of cultures. Each subsequent culture came up with a hybrid version of concealment and surprise that suited its particular culture and climate.
My fellow gardener and friend Mermer Blakslee uses many borrowed views in her wonderful garden. Her husband, Eric, cleared a distant wooded area turning it into meadow, which opened up the view and extended it (photo 4 from porch).

Mermer Blakeslee's garden with a "borrowed view" from the porch.

Photo 4: Mermer Blakeslee’s garden with a “borrowed view” from the porch.

Mermer’s garden rises up the hill behind her house and the views shift dramatically as you wander back down through the different levels. The whole garden takes on the feeling of a waterfall of textured foliage and flowers cascading down the slope. The house and barns become the adjacent views as you shift vantage points (photo 5).

Mermer Blakeslee's "borrowed adjacent view" of house.

Photo 5: Mermer Blakeslee’s “borrowed adjacent view” of house and outbuildings.

Mermer Blakeslee's "borrowed view of mountains."

Photo 6: Mermer Blakeslee’s “borrowed view of mountains.”

Views of distant mountains are framed by tall trees and serve as a backdrop to a shrub border (photo 6). Another gardening friend, Julia Clay, has a small bridge over a stream that was overgrown in brush. The hill and path beyond the bridge had grown in with dense scrub and she decided to take back the view (photo 7). She hired a couple of helpers to clear the brush and by doing so opened up the view. Now the setting sun lights up the area and brings the whole scene back into the garden composition. The little bridge over the stream makes a nice transition from the tamer to the wilder area of her garden (photo 8).

Photo 7: A before view of an overgrown area in Julia Clay's garden.

Photo 7: A before view of an overgrown area in Julia Clay’s garden.

Photo 8: The same view after it was opened up to "a borrowed view."

Photo 8: The same view after it was opened up to “a borrowed view.”

After 3,000 years of making gardens, the Chinese developed many distinct styles, which include the large estate gardens of the Chinese emperors and members of the Imperial Family, and the more intimate gardens created by scholars, poets, government officials, soldiers, and merchants. The early Scholar’s gardens (700) were located off the library with a sliding door opening onto a garden scene comprised of a walled garden that would not be ventured into but, rather, viewed like a painting. Artfully grouped rocks symbolize the eternal, and were meant to illicit the illusion of mountains. Water symbolizes change, evoking the feeling of a great lake. Rocks and water create harmony in the garden, balancing nature’s yin and yang. These first garden rooms were prototypes of the Scholar’s gardens that evolved over centuries into the high art form of the Ming Dynasty. The garden in Staten Island is a copy from a later Ming Scholar’s Garden (1600).
The Chinese placed great importance on the idea of place, those specific qualities that make one landscape different from another. Rather than flattening a hill or cutting down a group of trees, they were more likely to enhance the natural features that were present. The emphasis on a connection between house and garden preceded the English Arts and Crafts similar idea by 600 years. The Chinese, unlike Europeans, avoided straight lines, boxy flower borders, and bright colors in the garden, preferring natural curving lines and different green foliage. They took their inspiration from wilder landscapes. All plants were symbolic. Pine trees were indicative of longevity, steadfastness, self-discipline, endurance, and long life. Plum blossom represented strong personality, unafraid of difficulties. Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism offered people inner peace and harmony and the poets and scholars chose architectural details and plants for their symbolic meaning. Retreating from the chaos of the world they sought to apply these transcendent principles to their gardens (photo 9).
Another structural device used in Chinese gardens is the circle symbolizing togetherness, depicted in Moon gates and round tables placed within square backgrounds. The Moon gate and gourd-shaped gates make the viewer pause for a transition before moving into a new space. Paths in Chinese gardens often zigzag, which represent the passages of a human life. Not having had the opportunity to travel to China to see firsthand many of their wonderful gardens it was, however, a treat to experience an example of one of China’s great contributions to the world and to see how we can utilize some of those ideas today in our own gardens.

Photo 9: Chinese open ("leaky")window in the Scholar's Garden in Staten Island.

Photo 9: Chinese open (“leaky”)window in the Scholar’s Garden in Staten Island.

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Pass the Ramps

I am posting Marguerite Uhlmann-Bower wonderful article entitled: Pass the Ramps, Please. I would be interested to hear from any of you who have ramp recipes, experience in growing and or harvesting ramps.

Ramps Photo: David Turan

Ramps Photo: David J. Turan

Ramps in flower: photo by Bill Plummer. Many thanks Bill

Ramps in flower: photo by Bill Plummer. Many thanks Bill

Though this writings focus is on Ramps, its purpose really is a heads up for all plants. So join me in cultivating a daily awareness for all plants longevity, be they deemed invasive, noxious weeds, endangered or not endangered. They all matter – for our future.

About Ramps: also known as Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum) are a Lily family plant perennial in the same family as Onions and Garlic. Wild Leeks are known as an ephemeral – meaning, here for a short time and they surely demonstrate this. Locally and depending on the weather, they may begin growth sometime in March or April lasting 4 weeks to maybe 6 weeks max then the leaves become tough, yellowing, (the bulbs are still tasty and edible though) and the plant puts out flower heads with the leaves becoming inedible by end of May and may not easily be found come end of June except for the experienced eye.

Petersons Field Guides on Eastern / Central Medicinal Plants says Wild Leek leaves were used for colds, croup and as a spring tonic by the Cherokee, and a warmed juice of the leaves and bulbs for ear aches. How they applied this it does not say but this will be a topic I’ll write more on this and other onion family plants this July.

Wild Leeks are now sought after by people and in the market place, at roadside farm-stands, restaurants, small eateries, health food stores, farmers markets, etc. In recent years horror stories have been exchanged telling of unethical foraging practices (meaning leaving stands completely devoid of any Wild Leeks) and truck loads of Wild Leeks being shipped to far away places for sale. This onion family plant may just not be so abundant in short order.

Over the years my curiosity has peaked. I’ve had so many questions. Thus I posted them on Facebook and email.
- Are you seeing any changes in Leek populations over the years?
- Do you harvest for yourself?
- Do you buy them?
- Do you see them sold at restaurants, farmers markets, etc.
- And to all of the above, are the bulbs in place or just the above ground leaves?

I personally connected with 15 people, most live in Delaware County. Of all I interviewed, 3 of them were natives, going back at least 4 generations, if not more.
The others interviewed were non-natives and living here for the last 20 to 30 yrs.

Of the non-native group: 4 were business owners: a health foods store, a retreat center and 2 restaurants: the health foods store wouldn’t buy or sell any Leeks because they couldn’t confirm if the harvester had ethical and sustainable foraging practices; the retreat center harvested their own, and used only the greens, leaving the bulbs in the ground; one restaurant did the same; the other restaurant did harvest the bulbs and added they harvest only enough in the Leek growing season, and only from their land, and only in small amounts. The whole of this group didn’t think they saw any decline in Leek populations. Interestingly a few of these non-natives had dedicated time, money or both to yearly Leek transplantings onto ideal locations on their land. One couple has been doing this for the last 10 yrs. All had not harvested any of the plants yet. They wanted to give the plants a chance to acclimate to the area and were waiting until they saw the plants blossoming. This they felt was a good indication the plants had adapted to their new location.

Of the native group: one person saw at least one stand completely wiped out from what they had seen years ago; another said the same yet added they knew of huge stands that were still untouched and attributed this to the great distance one would have had to walk to get to them. The last person a woodsperson said this and I quote: “don’t think many leeks around, if you tell anybody they come in and dig them out”, adding, “’Ginshang (Ginseng) around is about dug out people hunt it all. See if you can do something, somebody got to or its going to be gone.”
Diane Greenberg of Catskill Native Nursery who propagates and sells wild foods and medicinals, had a lot to say about wild foods harvesting practices. Here are some of her thoughts and suggestions: “people think they are harvesting sustainably by only taking a portion of a patch. What they don’t consider is 4 or 5 other people are doing the same thing to the same patch and soon an area that was covered in leeks is reduced to a very small population. Over the years, I have seen a few areas in Ulster that were once abundant in leeks disappear completely. Mostly these were patches along public trails or easily seen while driving along a back road. People have bragged to me about filling up the back of a truck with leeks and selling them …” and “People do not understand how long it takes for these plants to grow and that by harvesting mature bulbs they are destroying what is needed to insure future generations of ramps … I hope in time people will see the big picture of the damage they are doing in the name of “free food”.
What Diane speaks of here, of harvesting sustainably is one of the practices I speak of in my plant walks, but even more so, how about bringing them in to your gardens by transplanting some, seeding some, supporting those already in your garden or purchasing wild cultivated plants from nurseries like Diane’s.

If you’re interested in checking out what Diane Greenberg is doing, go to greenwitch@catskillnativenursery.com
Find Wild Foods Foraging Suggestions on my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/herbsandwildplants or


The act of sustainability is for us to essentially be the care givers and stewards of the land that feeds us.
Spread the word …
- those of us who harvest Leeks
- those of us who purchase Leeks from harvesters
- those of us who dine on Leeks at restaurants
- those of us who know wild foods foragers not speaking out about sustainability, ask
them to consider the following …
Consider this: Invest in Leeks
Leave at least 80% to 90% of the plants for adequate self propagation. For instance, for every group cluster of plants, remove only one or two single plant.
Why? It takes 2 to 3 years for a Leek seed to germinate and up to 6 years to fully mature!
Consider this: Keep their life force in the ground.
Leave their bulb root in the earth. Cut only the green leaves at ABOVE soil level.
It has been observed that by keeping the bulb root in the ground, it will allow the plant to continue to grow for future seasons. Supportive studies show that when harvesting a stand of Leeks, if one picks as little as 5% – 15% (including the root bulb), this action cause’s the stand to go below ‘an equilibrium level’. This means that the stand is then functioning at a substandard level and can take several additional years to return to normal. So long as it is untouched for the next few years (3 to 5 yrs.) this then gives Leeks a chance to self propagate. Avoid at all costs taking the bulb. This will benefit you by providing you with many harvesting years to come.
Consider this: Rotate harvesting stands.
Have at least 3 or 4 sources (or more) to harvest Leeks from, and visit only one of them each year. It takes 2.5 years for a stand to fully recover from a single harvest.
FYI: In Quebec Canada, permits are given for Leek harvesting. Only 5 Leeks per person are allowed !
Lastly and as importantly consider: Think Sustainability.
1) Share sustainability ideas with our children … ‘ethical wild crafting way’
2) Ask wholesalers of leeks, local merchants and restaurants who sell Leeks to buy bulb-
less plants from their wild harvesters.
3) Lastly, this is the right thing to do all the time, for all of Nature … for us.

So please, pass (up) the Ramps this year.
This report is donated by Marguerite Uhlmann-Bower, Herbal Educator, RN and Wild Foods Enthusiast & Forager. She offers individual educational wellness consultations and leads the plant identification class: Weeds, Leaves, Seeds, & Shoots : Balance your Budget – Steward the Land. She is also author of Healing the Injured Brain. Source of Ramp Stats and for further reading: “Having Your Ramps and Eating Them Too” by Glen Facemire, Jr. 2009. She can be contacted at 3moonsisters@gmail.com, 607-278-9635. She resides in East Meredith, New York.



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Bluestone Patio and Walkway- before and after

I have had more repining on Pinterest of my blue stone terrace than any other photo I have posted. I know how much people like ‘before and after shots’- I like them too – so I thought I would show step by step how I developed this new garden room over several years.

First, a major renovation of the house that included an addition and a new porch was completed in 2001. Then in 2002, we had to have built a 5’ foot by 20’ foot dry stone retaining wall to create a flat area coming off the porch. In 2012,  I designed and had built by a local stone mason a small patio measuring: 18’ x 10’-5”. Also built a the same time is a 35’-4’ foot long by 4’ wide bluestone walkway that wraps around the house connecting the side of the house to the back. The walkway is on a slope and we needed to build a couple of steps that drop onto the patio.

Before shot: before house was renovated 2000

Before shot: before house was renovated 2000

During reconstruction: Addition and porch added 2001.

During reconstruction: Addition and porch added 2001.

Retainingg wall built in 2002: now have a flat landing coming off the porch.

Retainingg wall built in 2002: now have a flat landing coming off the porch.

Last spring 2013, after the patio was built, I began making a new border alongside the walkway so you would not see the patio all at once.  One of the ideas of the back border was to trade plants with friends rather than going to the nursery for plants. My gardening friends were all on board with the plant exchange.  I added terracotta pots and planted them with a bay, a fig tree, rosemary and annuals such a Plumbago, and Marguerite daisy, placing these potted plants on the low raised walls of the terrace to further enclose the room like feeling.  Even though it looks pretty complete the project is still ongoing and this year I plan to add the hypertufa pots I made last fall.

Wall extended on around to enclose new patio. 2012

Wall extended on around to enclose new patio. 2012

Patio relates to vegetable garden and out building

Patio relates to vegetable garden and out building

Patio seen from window above Japanese wisteria in bloom 2013

Patio seen from window above. Japanese wisteria in bloom 2013

blue stone path wraps around house onto new terrace

blue stone path wraps around house onto new terrace

Patio seen through new plantings

Patio seen through new plantings

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Don Statham -2014 Garden Talk Schedule

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I have a few more speaking engagements where I will be presenting my talk on Making Rooms in a Garden.  Most Garden Clubs open up their talks to the general Public unless indicated. If you’re in the area here are … Continue reading

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Ithaca Native Landscape Symposium

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Probably because I grew up in Oklahoma surrounded by prairie, in my twenties I sought out what was different and turned to European garden design for my inspiration.  Now in my early 50’s I have returned to my childhood landscape … Continue reading

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Winter Ramblings

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I like to think of myself and my garden as being in a period of gestation during the winter. Once or twice a day I walk through parts of it on my way to feed the chickens, or as I … Continue reading

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Franklin Garden Club Lecture Series

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Franklin Garden Lecture Series Great Dixter spring display, photograph by Diana Hall The Franklin Garden Club invites you to attend garden talks on Saturday afternoons, followed by light refreshments.  Join us at the Franklin Railroad & Community Museum at 3 … Continue reading

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