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15 February 2023

The Power Couple of Plants: Ken Druse and Louis Bauer

  View of garden in the fall from the house 


The Power Couple of Plants

Why hello garden role models! When Ken Druse and Louis Bauer said “yes” to our request for their gardening secrets, we wet our plants. The two are like the power couple in gardening circles. Ken is an esteemed lecturer and has written enough books to fill his own library shelf, about two dozen. His most recent is “The Scentual Garden: Exploring the World of Botanical Fragrance.” Louis is the former horticultural director at Greenwood Gardens in Short Hills, New Jersey, then  most recently at everyone’s favorite garden oasis, Wave Hill in the Bronx. Their story began 30 year ago in a Brooklyn Brownstone backyard surrounded by potted plants. Now they  garden on a two-and-a-half-acre island in the Paulinskill River in New Jersey—and rely on a lot fewer containers for their plants.

JM: What’s your favorite season?

Ken : Nothing can compare to spring—it’s easy ... “Anyone can do spring,” said Alan Haskell”— He meant flowering bulbs and evergreen azaleas but kidding aside, I love the spring ephemerals and the flowering shrubs and trees – from the haze of the red maple flowers until June when the weeds get bigger than the plants we adore.

Louis : Fall, when things are at their fullest and the list of chores gets shorter; at the end of fall I have the most optimistic list of things that should change.

  View of garden in the fall from the house 


 JM: What’s your top 3 favorite plants and why?

Ken : I know this is a cliché, but my most recent favorite plants are the last three I’ve seen- ones I don’t have and think I can grow. Seriously, it changes all the time, but I do like woody plants, (because they do well here) and columnar trees (and a couple of naturally narrow shrubs) like Liquidambar ‘Slender Silhouette,’ and maybe Buxus ‘Graham Blandy’. We have collections, for example, about a dozen different dogwoods, 10 Hydrangea arborescens varieties, and so on. I love  Trillium, and am passionate about Arisaema (Jack-in-the-pulpits). This could be a very long list. Plant-love guides my designs.

Louis : I’m currently into evergreen ferns and Carex species, especially native species, but also some interesting but underused Ophiopogon and Liriope varieties. That is because we have added the new gardening space across the road but have less energy and mobility, so I’m looking to “self-reliants” to plant among the rocks. I want to make masses of mixed perennials  that have a big impact and are attractive for a long time each year. And, I am looking to deer-resistant plants with minimal care.

JM: What plant gets no love (is underused) and why should we pay more attention to it? 

Ken : Well, let’s see ... Taxodium, Thujopsis dolabrata, Diphilea cymosa ... ? Again, too many to mention.

Louis : As above, ferns and carex, Ophiopogon, Hypericum prolificum (deer don’t eat these). 

JM: What’s the aesthetic of garden? What are some of your favorite “rooms”?

Ken : I think the aesthetic is naturalistic. We have few obvious formal areas, which is partly due to the shape of the island and the surrounding woodlands. A canal cuts across the island connecting the slow branch of the river with the fast one and is spanned by a sod-covered, arched stone bridge.

                                          Primula x bulleesiana Canal Garden Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Pendula'

                                Primula x bulleesiana Canal Garden Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Pendula'

Arch stone bridge over canal


This place has become the “canal garden,” is one of my favorite places and a focal point of the property. In spring, it is filled with candelabra primrose.

Louis : We also have a lot of trees—those that cover the nearby hills and ones Ken has planted.

 Ken : Two-foot whips that arrived from mail order nurseries are now 70-foot-tall trees. One of my favorite areas was what I called the Gravel Garden where I hoped to grow Zone 7 plants. But over time, it has become shaded and though it has a nice shape—outlined by a 70-foot wall—it isn’t much of a Mediterranean planting anymore.

 Louis : Ken is right, the Gravel Garden has a nice shape; a low half-circular stone wall across from the stone foundation of the original house and now of the new house we built six years ago.  The stone on both sides is  softened by plants, so the enclosure is subtle but still pleasing.


 The largest open space of the garden is a 70-foot diameter circle of grass lawn surrounded by mixed borders. It, too, is a subtly formal feature since the wild variety of border plantings grab all attention.

View of the river with sycamore 

                                                                 View of the river with sycamore


JM: Do you have an edible garden?

Ken  : We only have a little plot of vegetables because of the shade. The island garden is in a valley (elevation 500 feet) between mountain ridges to the east and west (big hills: 1,200 feet). But a tree came down and gave us a patch of sun to try out a tomato or two and some winter squash. We also have to deal with our sandy soil brought over the years when the river overflowed and flooded the garden.

JM: What’s the one (outdoors/garden) tool you can’t live without.

Louis : The Hori hori weed knife, Oh, and the rice harvester hand sickle, which I use to cut grasses down in fall, AND hellebore foliage NOW in late winter, etc.

Ken: My Felco number 2 pruners.

canal garden

Dianthus at the edge of the edge of the gravel garden 

JM: What gardens have you visited recently that you loved? What gardens or garden institution has influenced the way you manage yours?

Ken : Wave Hill, of course, John Gwynne and Mikel Folcarelli’s Rhode Island Sakonnet garden, Andrea Filippone’s in New Jersey, Pennsylvania’s Chanticleer, Les Jardins de Quatre-Vents in Quebec ... too big a list. Love and influence are different. Influenced by Wave Hill, love the others.

Louis : My mind always goes back to visits to Lotusland (in Montecito, California) and Dumbarton Oaks (D.C.), as well as Marcia Donahue’s in Berkeley.

JM: When is the last time you hugged a tree? Or what’s a sign of respect that you give to nature’s green beings?

Ken : I most recently hugged a tree (a few) in September. Nature guides this garden along with plant acquisitiveness, which has slowed down because we are out of space. 


JM: What’s one of your favorite resourceful/inspirational books on gardening?

Ken :Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines for Urban and Rural America” (Gary L. Hightshoe), and Exotica: Pictorial Cyclopedia of Exotic Plants from Tropical to Near-Tropiucal Regions. 


Louis : All of Ken’s books of course, especially the ones with me in the photos and “Nature Into Art, the Gardens of Wave Hill”!

JM: What’s new or coming up for you in the 2022?

Louis : Old dog learning new tricks, hoping it will keep me young, and no more excuses to visitors about the state of the garden. Along with that, appreciating what happens day by day.

Janec Mavec Jewelry

 Ken wearing Janet Mavec sunflower pin.