Category Archives: Design


Blog 5-28-14 small photoGardeners are inquisitive.  Let’s face it:  you walk down the street and see a sliver of a garden.  You want to go and see it.  You drive by a house and see a sliver of a garden.  You want to see it.  You are talking to your neighbor and see some interesting garden refuse in their “plant waste” barrel, and you want to see where it came from.  Can whatever it is be divided?

We are inquisitive, but with a purpose if we are honest.  Behind the smiles and oohs & ahhs, we want to know what you have, does it look better at your house and do we need to run out and buy one too?  Hopefully the last one so we can brag about it.

I may exaggerate here, but as a bonafide garden aficionado, I want to see gardens, and I MAY have some mildly competitive tendencies.  I want to get inspired, see plants in different arrangements and see how people use their space.  I want to see things that surprise and delight me.  And I want to compare.  Thankfully, I can be happy for others when I see their plant “x” outperforming my plant “x”.  Otherwise gardening would be a depressive activity.

So I muse on about this because The Garden Conservancy has arranged for 9 private gardens in the West Roxbury area to be on view on Sunday June 8th.   Often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a private creation, each garden is chosen for its merits; visitors decide which gardens they want to visit and in what order.  There is a $5 admission at each garden or $30 ticket at the host site, the Wakefield Estate in Milton.

Two Christie Dustman & Company, Inc. gardens will be featured on the tour:  the “Dustman-Ryan Garden”, and another I designed and maintain- the “Resplendent Spring Garden” in West Roxbury.

For the addresses of the nine open gardens in the West Roxbury area on June 8th, please find the list below.  We hope you will come by to see all of these special gardens.

Greater Boston Open Day

For more information as to how to visit these and many more beautiful gardens, please go to:

Shear madness

bad landscapes 7-09 006 (1) 4-24-2014 post

Gum drops, meatballs and blobs:  believe it or not, these are typical shrub shapes commonly found in many suburban neighborhoods. Well-intentioned homeowners and professionals alike regularly shear off each year’s new growth, forcing bushes into visions of symmetrical greenery never found in nature.  And then we all wonder – why do my shrubs just keep getting bigger and flower less?

To answer this conundrum, we must learn a little about plants and their growth patterns.  When we cut a stem of a plant, it sends a signal to the plant to grow MORE shoots further down on the branch and produce two “bunny ear” shoots at the cut tip.  So one cut ultimately encourages a burst of even more growth.  This starts a maddening cycle of shearing, profusion of growth, more shearing and more growth.  Soon your forsythia only has a few yellow blossoms on the outside of the shrub and your front hedge look like a chaotic pile of twigs all winter long.  The indiscriminate cutting of all branches, or shearing, has an unanticipated effect:  more vigorous and uncontrolled growth.

And we compound the problem by inadvertently shearing off flower buds, removing the aesthetic beauty, fragrance and natural form of the plant.

Pruning, by contrast, is the process of strategically cutting select branches to meet the plant’s short-term and long-term health and aesthetic goals.  Pruning takes into consideration maintaining optimal plant health, controlling growth, encouraging flowering and fruit production, and ensuring property safety.  Suffice it to say, electric hedge trimmers can’t be used exclusively for a more thoughtful approach to plant pruning.  Aesthetic pruning considers all of these factors, then adds the goal of maximizing the plant’s beautiful shape given its type and function in the landscape, and how it relates to surrounding plants.  Aesthetic pruning brings in an artistic element to the landscape and the shaping of plants.

Using an overgrown Forsythia as an example, aesthetic pruning requires considerably more thought and planning than simply shearing off new growth.  Carefully consider the following before picking up clippers:

  • Time of the year: What is the optimal time of year to prune your plants and shrubs?
  • Plant location:  Should it be trimmed back from the window or the front walkway, or allowed to develop a lovely fountain-like shape in the lawn area?  Should the plant be moved to a more suitable location?
  • Age of the plant:  Is this an older plant with inner stems that should be removed to encourage new growth and more abundant flowering?  Is this a young plant that requires a stronger root system and more density in its branches?
  • Type of tool:  Should I use hand pruners to make a few more significant cuts to the plant that will meet my goals?  Will a hedge trimmer start that maddening growth process?

Defining your goals for any plant pruning will lead to the best results and minimize unintended consequence.  Late winter and early spring is prime pruning season, especially for spring flowering shrubs and plant which need to be pruned after they flower.  If your goal is a beautiful and healthy home landscape, the benefits of aesthetic pruning may be right for your garden. Pruning with a vision for your entire landscape scene will increase the enjoyment of your garden plants today and for many years to come.

When Did I First Feel Successful

Landscape Design by Christie Dustman & Comapny, Inc.Recently I was asked to be on a Career Day panel.  One of the questions posed to the business owners was the title of this blog – When did I first feel successful?   Sure I have successes to point at – being featured in The Boston Globe, winning design awards, etc.  But one day long ago stands out in my mind as a real game changer:  the day my Clients dug up their front yard to install my planting plan.

I was new in business and my drawn plans were largely theoretical.  This was going to be one of the first to be implemented.  It was nothing less than shocking to witness perfectly sane people digging up their lawn because I asked them to.   I felt a mix of terror and exhilaration that day.

What happens when rubber hits the road?   Would my ideas look as good in real life as they did on paper?  Maybe the paper ideas were worthless and I was fooling them and myself.  It was a crisis of confidence.  I am happy to report that the new plants and beds looked pretty good – still do, ‘til this day.

This memory reminds me that I am entrusted in such a stunning way by my clients.  In the end, I was personally successful that day, but more so, it was the success of our mutual trust that triumphed.  My ideas are just that, ideas on paper until someone believes in me and my vision and in the potential for a wonderful new reality:  a garden.  Together we are successful garden makers.

Christie Dustman

Put your money where your ‘garden focal point’ is

blog 2 pix goodnough after 5The saying goes, put your money where your mouth is.  For the garden, it might be more appropriate to say: “Put your money where your garden focal point is”.

A FOCAL POINT in the garden is, by definition, “the point at which all elements converge” (   Simply said, the focal point is where your eye is naturally directed and settles for a view.  A focal point earns its prominence by being the specific site that you look at most from the kitchen table, family room or back door, for example.  You don’t have to work hard to find the focal point location–there it is, all the time.

For me, the garden focal point is the mouth piece of any garden or landscape.  It is the part of the garden that “talks” to you – perhaps beckons you to come outside, gives you a spot to sit psychically outside or provides seasonal drama. It concentrates compelling elements in one spot, like the crescendo of a piece of music.

What I have noticed is that not all designers figure out where the logical focal point is before doing a design plan.  And this leads to spending a lot of money for something that no one sees easily.  Nice and fancy, but expensive with little in the way of impact. That is why I place such a premium on finding and developing the focal point area and where I advise my clients to spend their money.  Let me quote another idiom:  Get more bang for your buck with a well located and designed focal point.

Christie Dustman

Sweet Sixteen and Blogging

Photo from the Hamden Court Flower Show, London, photo C. Dustman

Photo from the Hamden Court Flower Show, London, photo C. Dustman

It is SWEET SIXTEEN at Christie Dustman & Company this year. And like most 16 year olds, we are starting to Facebook, Blog and Tweet. Our new adventure into social media is our way to connect with you in an immediate and relevant way. Seasonal advice, interesting musings on plants, and photos of our work from the crew in the field. Hopefully we won’t bore you about what we are having at Starbucks!

Blogging and Facebook appeal to me since I have little conversations in my head a lot and I like the written word. Ideas, critiques and amazement thought bubbles (good and bad) pop in my mind all day so why not pass some of that along to you? Let’s share it together.

We are also on Pinterest and Houzz to showcase and trade awesome photos. Landscapes and gardens are so visually focused that sharing some of our favorite photos and seeing what else is out there is very appealing. Have you checked out either of these sites? It reminds me that the human mind is endless in imagination and creativity.

Christie Dustman


Seasonal Containers by Julie Campbell, Design Associate

Who ate the calendar?…Meaning: where on earth has the time gone??  Weren’t we just augmenting August gardens with colorful and productive annuals?? Who’d have thought that the holidays would be almost upon us and *literally* right around the corner.

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