FullSizeRenderAs September arrives with shorter, cooler days, the landscape regains vigor and color with a final flower show before winter sets in.  In addition to predictable foliage changes, select perennials and shrubs come into their own, while annuals hit a peak before dying off for the year.

Image-1-3Some of my personal perennial favorites include asters, japanese anemone cultivars, turtlehead (chelone lyonni), and of course, many ornamental grasses.  Retail nurseries tend to rely on perennials that flower from spring into high summer, often omitting selections for later months when homeowners spend less time outside. In designing a garden for year round interest, it is important to include fall flowering selections.

Purple ornamental grassThey brighten autumn days and round out the garden palette. They enhance views from indoor windows and greet family, guests and passersby that appreciate your house from the street perspective.


Image-1-1Several excellent shrubs shine during fall months: beautyberry (callicarpa bodinieri) with its amazing cascades of bright purple berries, coralberry (symphoricarpos orbiculatus), many viburnum cultivars, and winterberry hollies (ilex verticillata cultivars). These brighten  the fall landscape and many work well for cutting arrangements to be enjoyed inside.


There are even bulbs for fall….peacock orchids (acidanthera murielae) and fall blooming cyclamen (cyclamen hederifolium) are more unusual selections for the plant connoisseur. Give some a try next year or encourage your designer to use them.


IMG_8791 And don’t rush to remove summer annuals too quickly!  Dahlias, salvias, verbena bonariensis and annual daisies are putting on strong show, so enjoy those last weeks of color. There is still time to get in cabbages, kales, winter pansies and ornamental grasses  that will push the garden to those last moments before frost .

Please contact Mierop Design for more information about all of our services: consultation, design, installation, outdoor furnishings and property maintenance.



thermomFollowing record breaking June rainfalls for New Jersey, the recent high temperatures coupled with weeks of no precipitation make this summer one of the hottest and driest on record. “Wilting, withering” and “mercury popping” is how one writer aptly describes growing conditions this year – and I couldn’t say it better.

IMG_8350-2Early leaf drop and discoloration are evident. Many plants and lawns, in spite of regular irrigation, look scorched and burned. With little rain and continuous high temperatures, plants are taking a beating, in some cases failing to reach full potential for size and flowering. Even many ‘full sun’ selections in my nursery look stressed, and have been relocated to the shade house to recover and prevent further damage.

IMG_8337Climate change, man-made or otherwise, is a reality that affects all life. Over the last twenty years I have observed dramatic shifts in what is considered ‘winter hardy’ in our zone 6. Now perhaps I have to reconsider what is ‘summer hardy’? Extremes on either end of the spectrum have made specifying and providing warranties for the landscape a challenging task.

thThe best bet for summer survival is to keep plants as hydrated as possible. Lawns and beds may need heavier and longer watering in long runs of high temperatures where no rainfall is predicted. Of course, check for any current watering restrictions.  For lawns, ask your contractor to keep the blades set high to 3 or 3 ½”….a scalped lawn in dry heat is fast to burn. A 2” to 3” layer of mulch is also crucial to lock moisture in and to maintain lower soil temperatures.

thPlants should also be carefully sited to make sure they are in the best location for their sun tolerance. Some items may need to be moved. Drought resistant varieties that prefer dry heat and little to no irrigation (lavender, catmint, coreopsis, artemisia) will likely increase in their landscape value as time goes on. I’ll be taking this into consideration as I plan this winter for next year’s installations.

For help with any of your landscaping needs, please contact Mierop Design via the website:



IMG_0047One of the great pleasures of the summer garden are big displays of annual and tropical plants in containers. It’s an oxymoron: ‘big’ plus ‘contained’ – and that’s part of the power of these important components within the landscape.

Beautiful when they are first installed in mid-May, just past fear of frosty night destruction, tropicals (plants not winter hardy in our zone 6 climate) take a short while to fill out and come into their own. By July/August and beyond, container plantings peak in beauty. Voluptuous and showy, they are garden dessert – a sweet treat on top of an already full plate of peak summer perennials and shrubs. Their non-stop flowering potential makes them invaluable in summer landscapes which often hit a color lull as temperatures rise.

Sherman-Bujalski (5)In addition to the vast tropical palette of exotic plants, containers themselves offer their own world of decorative delight. There are abundant choices in every style, taste: from traditional terracotta, wood, limestone and cast iron, to a brave new world of resins and reproductions that winter our weather extremes, are lightweight, easy to move around, and are often reasonably priced. Finishing techniques have become so sophisticated that it can take close examination and a ‘tap’ test, to separate real from mimic.

There are styles and sizes to suit every taste and space requirement. Streamlined bold geometrics are popular now and look newest in bold colors that play off plant palettes.


Container versatility also crosses from merely aesthetic to functional. A well-sited container can draw the eye along a deliberate axis, disguise an ugly utility, serve as a safety barrier or enclose a space. In winter months, they house evergreens and add visual play to otherwise bleak landscapes.

yellow flowerA big gift in a small package, containers offers both high returns and low risk on your time and dollar investment. So go crazy with colors. Mix bold centerpieces with fillers and spillers. Combine different sizes in a still life of shapes on your deck or patio. You can always change things up next time around!

For assistance with any of your container or annual installations please contact Mierop Design.


Title ShotDespite that wise old advice, there seems to be too little time as we rush through our work and personal lives to ‘stop and smell the roses’. Given my line of work, it’s especially ironic that I forget constantly. This summer, with plentiful rains following an early spring drought, flowers seemed to pop all at once – and many of them roses.

One of my favorite showcase jobs planted three years agoDrift Roses literally stopped me as I was driving. I pulled over to take photos of a full on explosion of color – mostly from a new series called Drift roses: Peach Drift, Coral Drift, Apricot Drift, Pink Drift, Sweet Drift etc. These repeat flowering low shrubs offer prolific non-stop color and a handsome compact habit that make them easy and fun to mix with other perennials. Though not fragrant, they make up for that with their big late spring into summer show.

knock out rosesKnockout roses have taken the market by storm for their ease of care and performance. Aptly named, they flower non-stop from June through the fall. Go into any garden center and you’ll find them in abundance. Reaching to 4’ x 4’ they come in a variety of colors, both in single and double shapes.

If you really want to SMELL roses, however, you have to go to Daviddavid austin roses Austin, my favorite breeder. Austin has perfected the best of all rose possibilities by hybridizing old fashioned types with newer repeat-flowering varieties. His magnificent cultivars combine the perfection of form and fragrance of old roses, with the repeat flowering and disease resistance of newer varieties. Romantically named after English authors and literary references, they delight all the senses with names like ‘Jane Austen’ or ‘Jude the Obscure’. A look through his catalog (, is like going through a candy store. You’re not sure which one will be more delicious.

endless hydrangeaRoses peak in June, but let’s not forget that other big summer show off – the hydrangea that takes us well into the later months. Last year the most common garden complaint was about non-flowering. The harsh winter of 2013 caused complete die back to root systems. Winter 2014, though harsh again, caused less damage, and this year there is excellent flower production on old and new wood. Look for standard mopheads like the popular ‘Endless Summer’ series, more subtle lacecaps (hydrangea macrophylla varieties), oak leaf typesstrawberry vanilla (hydrangea quercifolia varieties), plus the fantastic new upright panicles (hydrangea paniculata varieties) that have been hybridized to include many new cultivars. Ones that mix and change color from white to pink like ‘Fire & Ice’ or ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ are newest – their names allude to what’s going on with these exciting new cultivars.

Remember: Take the time now to appreciate summer flowers! The moment is fleeting – so stop to smell, admire and breathe in all that beauty we wait the rest of the year to enjoy.

Contact Mierop Design for any of your landscape design, construction or horticultural and garden maintenance needs.


This winter was one of the coldest in recorded weather history for our zone 6 region. With snow events continuing into late March, a full month later than the brutal winter prior, extreme low temperatures left heavy damage in many landscapes….and many homeowners (and contractors) distraught over the losses.

Image-1Broadleaf evergreens suffered most. Their fleshy leaves, exposed to the unusually late cold and ice, burned just like food left too long in the freezer. “Freezer burn” caused leaves to completely die, or to have brown sections of unsightly damage.



Every winter we expect some winter damage, but this spring, it’s the damage extent of the damage that is so hard to fathom. Plants like laurels (prunus laurocerasus) considered ‘marginally’ hardy for zone 6, suffered the most. However, many fully hardy geneses such as holly and rhododendron, suffered equally, if not more. Fully hardy in our zone 6, they form the backbone of many winter landscapes.


Flowering trees also took a hit. Many crape myrtles, a particular favorite that we have become accustomed to planting liberally, died completely. Although they can regenerate from their roots, it hardly seems worth the wait. Very established specimens as well as newbies didn’t make it, so age did not offer protection. Ones that survived may have had a slight positioning benefit that shielded them from the worst winds and exposure.

The good news is that a lot of this damage will regenerate on its own. Most laurels and hollies are slowly pushing new growth now. Your patience will be rewarded as many shrubs and trees return to fullness within the season. Most dead leaves drop on their own, but you can go ahead and cut them off if you don’t want to wait. Cut back to live wood to encourage new growth.

Plants, of course, can also be replaced. The question is: replace with the same, or go for something hardier? I am an eternal optimist. I also want to plant what I want to plant. I love laurels and I am willing to live with their imperfect winter performance, but maybe you’re not so it’s time to consider something new.

Steps can also be taken in the fall to protect broadleaf evergreens: anti-desiccant treatments and burlap wraps may be the difference between life and death in an extreme winter. Less hardy varieties can also be planted in locations with more screening from harsh winter winds, or protected areas near walls, fences or other larger planting screens.


No one can predict next year’s weather except to say that it will beburlap tree unpredictable. Regardless of what side of the climate change argument you fall on, recent winters have been undeniably brutal. And by the way, in case you were wondering about that plant warranty, landscape designers and contractors are not in control of extreme winter weather!


Witch-Hazel-2-resizedAfter a long and difficult winter, the signs of renewal come as a welcome relief. The late snows kept things hiding, but hellebores and witch hazels, magnolias and cherries are all visible now…along with early bulbs like daffodils and grape muscari.

While it’s exciting to see new life pushing up through the earth, there are important tasks that also need your attention now.



Remember to turn on outside water lines. You’ll be needing them if you haven’t already, and if you have hired any professionals to do landscape work, that’s the first thing they will be looking for.


You did this in the fall, now it’s time to check leaders and gutters again. Keep them free from debris and leaf accumulation to avoid clogging that can drown plantings in too much water.


After removing dead plants, branches and leaves from your lawnsPruning-Tree and beds, prune away dead and damaged branches from woody trees and shrubs. Many shrubs that didn’t get hard pruned in the fall can be pruned at this time (hydrangea, butterfly bush, caryopteris). Prune back any perennials that were left in the fall such as grasses and others that remained for winter ornamental reasons.



Lightly turn the soil over with a cultivating tool. Soil can become compressed over time and opening it up lightly aerates root systems and permits water and fertilizers to penetrate more easily. It also looks really nice to see freshly cultivated dirt.



Add a layer of mulch to your beds if you didn’t last fall. Mulch addsemail_mulch protection, keeping soil temperatures even and preventing water evaporation. As it breaks down mulch also supplies nutrients and organic matter that replenish the soil. For perennial areas, I recommend something lighter such as a layer of compost or composted manure, lightly cultivated it into the soil base.



If you get to this chore early, you’ll save yourself heartache later when the foliage is too tall to manage. Set stakes or ‘grow-throughs’ around or over plants that get tall and split: peonies, daisies, salvias and veronica are common selections. Most plants look better with a little light support…but don’t make it too obvious….it’s an art to keep it subtle and not make plants look girdled, but it’s worth the time to keep perennials at their best. Staking can also be done naturalistically with twigs and small branches set carefully in-between plant foliage. This is more time consuming, but a very appealing way to invisibly make plants look perfect all season.


Please contact Mierop Design for assistance with any of these horticultural maintenance chores. Our Landscape Guild Master Gardening Crews are happy to help! 973.744.1758


IMG_4329It’s finally spring and the urge to spend time out of doors is powerful. The sights and smells of a fresh new season are exciting, especially after such a protracted winter indoors. The time is here to get that spring ‘to-do list’ going.  A short series of classes offered at Van Vleck House & Gardens  by me and my business partner, Frank Contey of Terra Graphics, can help jumpstart your season.

Entitled Landscape by the Yard, we will be teaching four sessions topbeginning Wednesday, April 1st. The first class, “Think Spring” will focus on key chores for the ‘do-it-yourself’ gardener, as well as highlighting design considerations that inform all outdoor room planning


van vleck wisteriaBest known for its gigantic, dramatic swags of wisteria that flower in May, the Van Vleck property is extraordinary from both architectural and landscape history perspectives. Originally built as a private residence over 140 years ago, three generations of Van Vlecks lived on the 5.8 acre estate and developed the grounds. In 1993, the property was gifted to The Montclair Foundation by heirs of its last resident, Howard Van Vleck. A recent capital campaign has raised funds to update the facilities and attract more annual visitors to this extraordinary suburban jewel. Last year saw the debut of a new educational facility with programming for both children and adults in our community.

I was privileged to have been asked to assist the campaign kick off in2009 07 16_0898 - Copy 2008 by designing and building the formal “Tennis Garden” with my partner Terra Graphics. Last year, Frank and I were again fortunate to have been asked to host the educational launch with a series of classes for adults. More recently Terra Graphics completed an extraordinary mosaic “Butterfly Garden”, superbly designed for children by Molli Dowd of Afterglow Design. The Butterfly Garden will debut this spring and I am sure it will become a favorite local activity for parents and children.

Garden Mag Sharper (2)Landscape by the Yard was given a nice nod from Garden Design Magazine! Classes begin Wednesday, April 1st and run from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Educational Center. Visit for further details.

We hope to see some of you there!!

What Lies Beneath

The adage “What you see is what you get” doesn’t apply to goodFinished Product
landscaping. It’s more like “What you get is far, far greater than what you see”. A well designed landscape adds beauty and value to any property. But as with many artful trades, the visual result represents a fraction of what the project includes. Before hardscapes can be built or flowers planted, proper grading, drainage, footings and utilities have to be engineered and installed. Of course, choices of plants and hard materials are important, but these considerations are icing on a bigger cake. Designing and planning for what “lies beneath” precedes everything – and can often determine the long term success, or failure, of a project.

creates the shape of what’s to come by either “cutting” or “filling” the landform. Soil can be added or subtracted, sculpting the earth to suit its desired new end use. Proper drainage manages precipitation and storm water runoff so as to avoid both flooding and erosion which can wreak havoc on plants and homes alike – both yours and neighbors’.

1Utilities Blog 5Excavating 42” down below the frost line is critical for proper footings that stabilize all hardscapes: patios, decks, walls, steps and landings.

Skipping or cheating on this step results in shifting or failure of principal structures in the landscape. Add utilities: irrigation and water lines, electrical and gas conduits, cable, sound or lighting lines – all out of sight, but never out of the designer’s mind. They may not be pretty, or cheap add-ons, but the future of your project depends on these choices being well conceived and executed.

Before and After

before A1before a2By far the most popular feature on my website is the  “Before and After” section. Featuring an array of landscape problems – from crumbing steps to overgrown fields of weeds, one little click transforms the scene to a perfectly executed solution. It’s so easy and satisfying to see ugly become beautiful, dangerous become safe, dark become light-all in the span of a second.

before b2before b1before b1before b2Who can deny the appeal of an instant makeover? Reality TV renovations bring in crews of craftsmen to perform perfectly orchestrated miracles – overnight and on a budget no less! Computers have accustomed us to ‘pointing and clicking’ through life – instant gratification. Or perhaps it’s our childlike love of magic – things changing without our understanding or effort.

before c1Whatever it is, I before c2admit to loving these shots myself, so I’m sharing a few.  Seeing them again allows me to skip over the huge effort and time required by the job: design, engineering, client consent, permits, obstacles to execution and of course, weather delays. If only life were as easy as “before” and “after” photos – but we all secretly know it isn’t.


 winterize_gardenWinter always seems to come too fast and take too long to go away. Last year’s devastating cold took its toll on our landscapes, so let’s be better prepared this year with steps to protect your investment. Attend to the following chores before ending your garden season this year.




Outside hose lines and irrigation systems must be properly closed for the winter. If not, pipes can freeze and break, potentially causing enormous water damage inside and out.  Make sure to close off all outside hose bibs and water lines running around the foundation or to accessory buildings like a garage or pool cabana. For your automatic irrigation, it’s not as simple as turning the manual shut off valve! The system needs to be “blown out” to remove any water that may be lingering in the irrigation lines so that they don’t freeze and break .This is a task for your irrigation contractor so don’t forget to get on his calendar in time.


In late fall perennials need a good haircut to keep the garden looking tidy, as well as to prevent mold and fungal born diseases from developing during months of winter precipitation. Cutting back also gives perennials a clean start from their base in the spring. Some perennials, however, especially grasses, maintain an interesting winter structures. They have architectural merit and can be left to decompose naturally over the winter and cut back in late winter/early spring.


raking_leavesRaking and removing leaves from the garden floor is a fall ritual for many. In addition to keeping beds free of mold and fungal born diseases, it leaves the garden looking tidy and cared for. Decomposing leaves however are a critical part of nature’s life cycle, so instead of bagging them for curbside pick up, find a discreet place on your property for composting. If you layer leaf matter with green garden and lawn clippings, turning them occasionally as they “cook”, the result will be a beautiful, dark humus in about a year. Use this to top dress beds or as a nutrient dense soil amendment when installing new plants. Compost is the ultimate recycling payoff that earns its name as “gardener’s gold” for its ability to build soil and nourish plants. There is nothing better for a gardener than having his or her own reservoir of compost on site.


It’s not too late to get down a 2″-3″ layer of hardwood mulch. MulchMulch is a magical material that performs many important duties: it keeps soil hydrated in all seasons and regulates soil temperatures (warm in winter/cool in summer). As it decomposes, mulch also adds organic matter to your soil which is critical “food” for plants and their root systems. Plan to mulch every two years to keep beds protected and healthy, in addition to looking beautiful.



Evergreens, particularly ones with broad leaves (laurels, rhododendrons, pieris, mountain laurel) suffer the most in winter from wind, dehydration and browning/burning of leaf surfaces. This results in unsightly damage to new and older plantings, as well as plant death. Spraying a coating of Wilt Pruf, an anti-desiccant can help in preventing winter damage on evergreens. It’s a waxy coating that is sprayed onto the plant leaves to provide a layer of protection. It’s not a guarantee but it’s an aid that is well worth the investment Note: Wilt Pruf needs to be applied when temperatures are above 40 degrees.

Please contact Mierop Design for assistance with any of the above services.