Late bloomers often pursue their true passions late in life. After a long career in education, Lee Miller decided to pursue one of her greatest passions; landscape design.
Her interest in gardening began as a child. She writes in her first book, A Guide to Northeastern Gardening, "At the age of seven my father stopped at the side of the road and rescued a small excavated Eastern Red Cedar that had been left for dead. We brought it home and I planted my first tree. That very tree, now over fifteen feet high, still grows at the very back of our property on the South Shore of Long Island, New York."
Fittingly enough, the house that Lee shares with her husband was once a flower farm that grew Gladioli. Here are some views of Lee's amazing garden taken by the author herself:
A view of the front walkway from September 2016. Photo by Lee Miller
A well organized list of posts on her blog, A Guide to Northeastern Gardening, show her garden through the months of the gardening season. The posts stretch way back to 2011. It's nice to able to see changes in the garden through the months and over the years. Take a look yourself here.
The view along Lee's front walkway is serene. The color palette is quiet, but that only serves to draw your attention to what is the real star– texture. The clumps of Variegated Liriope are a great example of the power of repetition. Your eye follows the Lirope right down the walkway.
Variegated Liriope Photo by Lee Miller
East perennial border. Photo by Lee Miller.
A riot of color from July 2016. You can get a list of the plants here.
A gorgeous shot Lee took of a Coneflower, Echinaea 'Cheyenne Spirit'.
Another picture taken by Lee in July 2016. Again, there is plant information in her blog post.
Backyard long view. Photo by Lee Miller
Throughout her career as a teacher, Lee found herself helping friends and neighbours with landscaping projects. With the encouragement of family and friends, she decided to further her education in horticulture and design. With her studies complete, Lee opened a landscape/garden design company in 1996.
Let's take a quick look at just a few of the many projects Lee has designed:
Here a blank corner turns into something rather spectacular.
Lee says that, "The client wanted a beautiful cottage style perennial garden in memory of her grandmother. She wanted to be able to enjoy ongoing colorful blooms that she could view from her patio. The flowers that I selected varied in height to make a layered look. Their bloom sequence would commence in May, continue throughout the entire summer, and on into the fall. Foliage plants like Heuchera (Coral Bells) and Artemisia were added to provide additional interest."
Note: This design appears in Chapter 6 of Lee's latest book in with a numbered layout and plant descriptions.
In this above "before", the shed looks isolated and out of place in the landscape. With the addition of the garden beds, the playhouse no longer looks foreign, it's apart of the garden.
I like that Lee added pathways through the plantings. In my opinion, a garden shouldn't be something you admire from a polite distance. A garden should be something that is experienced.
Homeowners often struggle with what to do at the front of their house. I asked Lee what she thought was the biggest mistake people make when creating a front garden and what could be done to avoid it. Here's her answer:
"The biggest mistake homeowners can make is choosing the wrong type of plant for the site. In this particular design, you'll notice that low growing boxwood were used as the foundation evergreen along the front of the porch. The variety chosen will only reach an eventual height of 2 or 3 feet. They'll never overgrow the space or hide the porch down the road. The Japanese Maple will provide beautiful burgundy foliage throughout the warmer seasons and structure in winter. The blue and golden hued evergreens will provide structure and color all year round. Perennials like Salvia 'May Night', Sedum 'Brilliant' and Daylily 'Stella D'Oro' bring additional interest through the summer months."
Salvia 'May Night' (foreground) and Sedum 'Brilliant' in behind. Photo by Lee Miller
If you want to see more of these before and afters, you can watch a slideshow here.
Lee's first book is an accumulation of years of experience as a gardener and designer.
Who would I recommend this book for? I'd say it would be a great reference for a novice or intermediate gardener in the northeastern part of the U.S. (or any garden zones 3-9. Many of the plants Lee suggests would work in my zone 6 garden for instance).
A gardener, who is just starting out, could easily comb through the book's chapters and begin to plan their garden based on a selection from Lee's list of recommended perennials, trees and shrubs (for both sun and shade).
One of the early chapters in the book is "Long Blooming Perennials for your Garden." I thought, as I dived into this chapter, that narrowing a list down to ten plants can't have been easy. It would be like picking a favourite child! Still Lee was able to come up with a list of great, dependable plants including the Heuchera 'Caramel' that you see above. Each choice based on Lee's own experiences and is augmented with a helpful plant profile.
If you have problems with deer, chapter 3 with a list and profiles for deer resistant plants is for you. Shade garden? Then you want to check out chapter 10.
Photo by Lee Miller
Photo by Lee Miller from September 2016. Click the link for more information.
As you can see from Lee's own garden, she knows how to work with evergreens, shrubs and flowering trees. Though I am a fairly experienced gardener, I am not nearly so confident when it comes to dwarf or weeping evergreens, so I really appreciated the chapters dedicated to conifers.
Simply picking out plants isn't nearly enough. The book provides helpful information on the elements of garden design; structure, form, color, foliage and texture.
I particularly enjoyed Chapter 7: The Design of a Long Island Native Garden which details the steps from design to execution for one of Lee's bigger projects. I found myself wondering, "Gosh, what would I do if I had to tackle a large project like this?" It was fun to follow Lee's thought process and she how she decided to approach the design challenges.
The final section of the book has handy maps with garden zones and the answers to frequently asked questions. Here are just a few examples of the questions answered:
• Watering in winter
• The planting depth for trees
• Rejuvenating daylilies
• The type of mulch you should use
While this post focuses on Lee's first book, I want to make a quick mention that she has just published her second book Landscape Design Combinations. This book picks up where the first book left off and digs deeper into the design process. Read more about Lee's latest book here.
In conclusion, I want to say how much I admire all Lee has accomplished. There are days in my late fifties when I feel just plain tired! LOL To start a successful landscape design company and self-publish two books in pre-retirement are truly impressive accomplishments.
Lee has very kindly given me a copy of her first book to give away.
If you would like to be entered in the book draw, please leave a comment below. Because the book will have to be sent out in the mail, regrettably I am going to have to limit entry in the draw to readers in Canada and the U.S.A.
If your not a blogger, but would still like to enter the draw, you are welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Entry in the draw closes on February 25th.
If you want to go ahead and order a book, here is a link to A Guide to Northeastern Gardening on Amazon. Here is a link to Lee's latest book Landscape Design Combinations also on Amazon.
About the Author:
Lee Miller is a professional landscape designer who has been involved in the horticultural industry for a little over twenty years. She is also the author of the blog A Guide to Northeastern Gardening where she shares her love of gardening and her journey as a designer. As well as the blog, Lee also contributes articles to the American Heart Association blog and the website Gardening Know How.
A Guide to Northeastern Gardening was Lee's first book on gardening. Her latest book Landscape Design Combinations is a comprehensive guide that helps home gardeners plan their outdoor spaces.