Mary Gray

About Mary Gray

Garden designer and coach, and blogger at Black Walnut Dispatch – “mossy, fecund thoughts about gardening and nature”. Burke, Virginia

Care for a black walnut?

“Care for a black walnut?” I’ve got plenty, with plenty still to come. I also have a nifty nut collector made by the folks at Garden Weasel. What a treat to discover a yard device that requires no engine and makes no noise, that is so simply designed and yet works beautifully. Continue reading

This land is MY land, all mine!

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about what it means, as a gardener, to actually own my own piece of property. Sometimes when I am taking my vegetable scraps out to the compost heap, following a route that spans the full expanse of my backyard, I marvel at the fact that the entire vast swath is mine to do with as I wish. Continue reading

If the ‘wilderness’ is really suburbia, is it a betrayal?

For years I have worshipped Annie Dillard’s book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, her Pulitzer-prize winning meditation on nature written back in the 1970’s. I keep a copy of it on my Kindle, and whenever the world feels too much with me, I like to retreat into a few of its pages. Her descriptions of giant water bugs and mating wood ducks, intertwined with questions of creation and invocations of the great philosophers and scientists, are beautiful and strange and calming. Continue reading

Designing for entropy

“Just as the constant increase in entropy is the basic law of the universe, so it is the basic law of life to be ever more highly structured and to struggle against entropy. “ – Vaclav Havel. I think this photo of my side yard illustrates Havel’s point pretty well: Continue reading

I gotta git me one o’ these outdoor TVs!

While reading the latest issue of US Better Homes and Gardens, I stumbled upon a new (to me) trend in outdoor living: Outdoor Televisions! Phew! It’s about time. I was getting so bored and fidgety just sitting out on my patio with, like, no electronic devices whatsoever, wasting lazy summer evenings in quiet conversation with family or watching the birds and butterflies. Continue reading

The optimism of tiny trees

I have a vivid memory of eating a Red Delicious apple when I was seven years old and, afterward, regarding the dark seeds embedded in the core. I asked my dad if I planted one of the seeds would we get apples on our own tree next year? No, he said. Not next year. Then when? Continue reading


“A man’s mistakes are his portals of discovery.” – James Joyce Then again, Joyce was a man of ideas. I’m sure no contractor ever said to a client: “Oh, that retaining wall I put in last fall is collapsing now? But of course! How could something so bourgeois hold back the anarchy of our modern age?? Don’t you see?? It was futile from its inception!!!” Continue reading

The art of abandonment

A few miles south of where I live there’s an old DC prison complex which used to be known as Lorton Reformatory.  Several years ago they shut the place down and transformed a few of the larger buildings into a new “Arts Center” where painters, sculptors, and other creative folks can rent studio space and teach classes. Continue reading

P.E. for gardeners

I hate to bring this up, but sooner or later your body is going to rebel against the physical demands of gardening. It is not going to appreciate the fact that, within the course of an afternoon, you hauled 30 cubic feet of mulch on your back, bent to the ground from a standing position 167 times, and — on tiptoe – leaned forward while stretching waaaay out with your hedge clippers to reach the top of the damn yew hedge, so that the torque on your lower back was approximately 1200 foot-pounds per square inch, or however you measure that. Continue reading

The heart & soul of America

If you had to choose one place in the United States that you felt all Americans should visit, one landscape or landmark representative of the “American ethos”, what would it be? I started pondering that question last week after reading Catherine Stewart’s story about her pilgrimage to Uluru (more familiar to us Americans as Ayers Rock), the giant monolith located smack dab in the middle of the Australian continent. Continue reading

Art and the garden

Take a look at the pair of images below. What would you say they have in common? Now, I’m pretty sure the garden vignette on the right was not modelled directly after Thomas Cole’s painting (on the left), but the two certainly do seem to share some genetic material, don’t they?  The arches, the vines, the muted colors, the effort to capture antiquity — all are present in both painting and garden. Continue reading

Garden ornament

Nothing announces the mood or atmosphere of a garden more so than Garden Ornament. Sure, you can plant an Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’ and a carpet of black mondo grass, but it’s really the stone lantern that declares: Continue reading

Literary gardeners

This weekend my son accompanied me to the garden center and wanted to choose his ‘very own’ little pot of flowers. I let him browse around the annuals section and take his pick. He chose these sunny, red geraniums.

Continue reading