The Hissing of Summer Lawns Playlist

Photograph by Bill Owens
"I bought the lawn in six-foot rolls. It's easy to handle.
I prepared the ground and my wife and son helped roll out the grass.
In one day you have a front yard."






The Hissing of Summer Lawns by Joni Mitchell

He bought her a diamond for her throat
He put her in a ranch house on a hill
She could see the valley barbecues
From her window sill
See the blue pools in the squinting sun
Hear the hissing of summer lawns

He put up a barbed wire fence
To keep out the unknown
And on every metal thorn
Just a little blood of his own
She patrols that fence of his
To a latin drum
And the hissing of summer lawns
Darkness
Wonder makes it easy
Darkness
With a joyful mask
Darkness
Tube's gone, darkness, darkness, darkness
No color no contrast

A diamond dog
Carrying a cup and a cane
Looking through a double glass
Looking at too much pride and too much shame
There's a black fly buzzing
There's a heat wave burning in her master's voice
Hissing summer lawns

He gave her his darkness to regret
And good reason to quit him
He gave her a roomful of Chippendale
That nobody sits in
Still she stays with a love of some kind
It's the lady's choice
The hissing of summer lawns

Weekend flowers

Actea racemosa. I liked the name better when it was known as Cimicifuga racemosa. This native of the woodlands of the eastern U.S. is also known as black cohosh, bugbane, black snakeroot or fairy candle and has a long history as a medicinal plant.

There are two wondeful things about these plants in my upstate garden: they take care of themselves for weeks at a time while I'm not there AND the deer don't eat them. The art director in me loves photographing them against the walls of our dark house.

 'Bowles Black' viola


 'Pam's Choice' foxglove



 Unknown foxglove variety


Unknown foxglove variety

Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana) 

Outdoor shower garden



The outdoor shower at our lake house is one of the best things about the advent summer. It is tucked behind the cabin next to the bluestone patio we extended a few weeks ago (more on that later). Guests love it. And the best part, you don't have to feel guilty about wasting water during a long, luxurious shower because you're also watering the plants. 

Several years ago, we added a collection of bog plants that could handle the wet soil and mixed them with native ferns. This year I stuck in a few sinister 'Bowles Black' violas and some mint. The biggest of the large, prehistoric-looking plants is petasites (I know it can be invasive but I planted it before I knew its reputation. Luckily in our heavy clay soil ours hasn't moved in four years). I also planted the almost as large—and equally non-native—Astilboides tabularis. Given the opportunity, I would definitely start again with native bog plants just in case these escape after I'm gone (or when I'm not looking).

Some things to think about:
•Pay attention to how your water drains. You want to avoid creating pools of standing water (mosquitos!). The water from our shower drains very well into the sand and gravel substrate under the bluestone. It's also sponged up by the moss we placed in the cracks. 
•With all those lovely plants around, make sure to use biodegradable soaps and shampoo.
•Buy a mildew-resistant shower curtain. Cotton canvas might be beautiful but in a wet climate it will quickly start blackening up.
•You can buy the outdoor shower as a kit from many online places. Chad had the rounded curtain rod made by the metalworker he uses in his lighting business.
•In cold winter areas, disconnect and open up all the plumbing valves so that the pipes don't freeze and burst.

Summer lake


Chad's iphone pic of the lake the other weekend. Recently I've seen an eagle that circles for long periods before diving a hundred feet or so into the water to grab a fish. He (or she) then hoists it off to its nest in the tall pines on the other shore.

Silver Heights


My favorite nursery these days is Silver Heights Farm near my house upstate. They specialize in all kinds of vegetables and herbs: dozens of dozens of rare tomato and pepper seedlings, 14 or so varieties of thyme, a whole row of different basils, Italian greens like puntarelle and also unusual old-fashioned things like lovage, sweet cicely, woad, and comfrey (what I'm holding above).

If you are in Sullivan County on a day they are open (check their website here), then be sure to stop by. You'll be like a kid in a candy store. They also sell at the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesday and Saturdays and the Callicoon Green Market on Sundays.


This is what my comfrey will look like later in the season. Some people think it is weedy (it is) but what a beauty. It reminds me of an eccentric country woman who used to come stay with us when I was a kid and my parents were out of town. She was what we called a health food nut back in the day. I loved all the witchy herbs she grew in her garden and the concoctions and teas she drank every morning. She made comfrey tea religiously which I now hear is not recommended.


Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) by Karl Blossfeldt