Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener

Imitating New Zealand

April 3, 2014

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Time and time again I drove past thousands of flowering Crocosmia on the roadsides of New Zealand, remarking to myself, “I’ll stop in a few miles and take a photo of this.” As a plant of South African origin, Crocosmia apparently loves Kiwi roadsides. I never stopped to take that picture, so the closest I can come is this Crocosmia planting pondside at the Christchurch Botanical Garden, strangely in the native plant section of that garden.

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Post image for Accidental encounter … Shigeru Ban

“Architecture generally involves creating monuments to permanence from substantial materials like steel and concrete. Yet this year, the discipline’s top award is going to a man who is best known for making temporary housing out of transient materials like paper tubes and plastic beer crates.” – Robin Pogrebin, New York Times


Christchurch, New Zealand, lost its symbolic center when the Cathedral in the center of its downtown collapsed in an earthquake in February 2011. We heard about a “transitional cathedral” on the first day we arrived in Christchurch last month. It was designed by a notable Japanese architect. I didn’t know who.

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Post image for Garden Diary:  Late, better than never

Driving along Federal Twist Road last weekend, I stopped my car for a quiet look at the forest. With sunlight beaming down in silent stillness, I could almost hear it, spring in the air.

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Post image for Wigandia: a garden of the sun

I first learned of William Martin and his iconoclastic garden, Wigandia, several years ago when he spoke at the Vista lectures in London (I listened to all the Vista podcasts). Shortly after, he discovered my garden through my blog, and an intermittent dialogue and friendship began. Wigandia has been widely publicized in books and magazines, and has been chosen as the best Australian garden twice. But it is not an easy place to get to, situated as it is on the side of an ancient volcanic cone, Mount Noorat, about three hours drive east of Melbourne. When Phil and I planned a trip to Australia and New Zealand in February of this year, a visit to meet William Martin and see Wigandia was at the top of my list.

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Wigandia Mashup

March 10, 2014


If you received a partial blog post on my visit to William Martin’s garden Wigandia in Australia, it was published prematurely and withdrawn.

I’m receiving questions about it, so that’s the story. The complete post will appear shortly.

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Post image for First Contact: Meeting William Martin

On Thursday, Phillip and I rented a car and headed out from Melbourne to meet William Martin and see his garden–Wigandia–in Noorat, Australia. Before we got to Noorat, we lunched with William in Camperdown and a conversation (or several) ensued–photographed by Phillip. That plant behind us is the eponymous Wigandia caracasana. (William,  correct me if I’m in error.)

For me, this visit was an experience of legend.


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More snow … we’re off to another hemisphere

January 25, 2014
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It’s snowing again, after a literal blizzard earlier this week and temps near zero every night, the fuel oil flaming away in the furnace. So it’s a pleasant thought to know we leave for Australia and New Zealand later this week. One of the highlights will be a visit to meet William Martin and see […]

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Looking Back on 2013

January 10, 2014

Musing over the photos of last year’s garden, I realize I lost most of the late winter and spring. Constructing the new reflecting pool and surrounding area, then replanting the construction site took most of my attention and made a mess of the garden. Apart from the winter interest provided by an ice storm in […]

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Garden’s end

January 4, 2014
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The winter garden–my winter garden in far western New Jersey–usually lasts into January or February, but when the garden interest diminishes sufficiently I look forward to the annual burning and cutting–firmly ending the year and preparing a clean palette for spring. Its lifespan, like ours, is unpredictable. Three days after I took these photos we […]

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More than the Lurie Garden

December 21, 2013

In Chicago for a family event last weekend, I hoped to see Piet Oudolf’s Lurie Garden for the first time. Unfortunately Chicago had its first major snow storm that week. The garden was closed. But all wasn’t lost.

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In praise of weather

December 6, 2013
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This being the first fall in three years the garden hasn’t been trounced by early blizzard or hurricane, I’m thanking whatever powers may be for the aesthetic gifts of  the weather–fog, rain, cloudy days, the low autumnal sun when the clouds let it through. Thursday morning, December 5, presented fog and a cloudy sky. Fog […]

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On the High Line: The Third Landscape with Gilles Clement and Michael Gordon

November 30, 2013
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In late October I was fortunate to join Michael Gordon for a walk on the High Line. He planned to come to New York for a lecture by Gilles Clement, which I intended to go to too, so we arranged to meet. We had the opportunity to talk about the changes in the High Line […]

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Book Review: The New English Garden by Tim Richardson

November 22, 2013
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Tim Richardson’s new book, The New English Garden, is a beautifully photographed, sensuously appealing volume slathered with full-page photographs and huge double-page spreads so large you feel you could fall into them. The book is a hedonistic delight and a source of many hour’s diversion and, if you’re so inclined, a pleasant opportunity for learning. […]

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Brown is many colors

November 22, 2013
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To paraphrase Amalia Robredo, brown is many colors …

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Foggy morning

November 16, 2013
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This is the garden at its most theatrical. High drama, indeed. A light rain last night left a morning fog and full sun. The saturated foliage, wet now, almost ready for dissolution, caught the light, making the plants appear to glow against the vague, foggy background.

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The season turns: first light frosts

November 14, 2013
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The first light frosts are bringing this growing season to its end. Some grasses have long ago turned to shades of orange, brown, gold and yellow; others are still green. The big perennials–Silphium, Inula, Rudbeckia maxima, Vernonia, Joe Pye Weed–are now becoming sculpture; their dark, leaden-brown structures will last through most of winter.

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Late garden in Brooklyn

November 7, 2013
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This is the tentative season but the Brooklyn garden continues to hold its own. Left to right the keepers are Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’, Tetrapanax papyrifera ‘Steroidal Giant’, Cotinus coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’, Black bamboo.

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Is a change in the air?

October 24, 2013
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Was I surprised! My late Garden Conservancy Open Day on October 19 was a rousing success. We had over 300 visitors, and judging by what I could see, most were enjoying it. I was so busy I didn’t take a single photo, so I’m using a Google Earth photo of the house and garden above, […]

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Filling in the blanks

October 18, 2013
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I felt something was missing in The Good-for-Nothing Garden–the story about my garden that appeared in the New York Times yesterday. The story was right on spot–perceptively, sensitively, and humorously written by Michael Tortorello.

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The Good-for-Nothing Garden

October 16, 2013
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Coverage in The New York Times… I admit it; I feel exposed in an uncomfortable way. But as a friend was kind enough to point out to me at dinner Monday night, “Jim, you’re not the center of the universe.” So click on this link and you’ll go to a story about me and my […]

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Mobile and mobility

October 14, 2013
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I didn’t know I needed a red mobile in my garden. Susan Cohan came to visit on a recent Saturday. She saw a sign for exhibits of local sculptors. We were passing John McDivit’s place on River Road and and Susan suggested we stop to take a look.

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Hold the Date – Federal Twist will be open for the Garden Conservancy Open Days on Saturday, Oct. 19

October 10, 2013
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The Garden at Federal Twist will be open as part of the Garden Conservancy Open Days program for a second time this year–on Saturday, October 19, from 10 am to 4 pm. Please come if you can. This garden is all about seasonal change; cool nights and recent rains  have moved the garden well along […]

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Toddler Garden in Brooklyn

September 18, 2013
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Some evidence of maturity in the small Brooklyn garden belies its true age–only 16 months since planting started, merely a toddler garden. I wonder if I’m in for a bout of the “terrible twos.”

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Think jangly, heterogeneous confusion of a riot …

September 12, 2013
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I’m trying to learn how to use a new  camera, so last week I took a twilight stroll to try it out in low light. The camera is a compact Sony Cybershot DSC-RX100. I’ve been very disappointed with my Canon Rebel DSLR for years; the Sony has received rave reviews and, though it doesn’t have […]

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Atmosphere in the garden – thoughts on a bright summer day

August 21, 2013
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We recently visited a show of John Singer Sargent’s water colors at the Brooklyn Museum. The predominant impression I brought away from that large exhibition was of the significance of light and shade in creating an atmosphere with the emotional power to move a viewer. Seeing the Sargent watercolors was a reminder of the light. […]

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