Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener


Not until after the fact–during it, really–did I realize how gratifying it would be to have a bunch of landscape architecture students come for a visit.


Jeff Charlesworth had asked if I’d mind if he brought some students from a class he teaches at Delaware Valley University in nearby Doylestown, Pennsylvania, to visit the garden, to sketch, to talk.


I hope it got them a little bit interested in bridging the gulf so often found between landscape architects and garden makers.


Jeff said they enjoyed the experience.


I think I heard the word “mysterious” used.


I hope so.







Autumn is a glorious season in the garden. I took this photo in the gravel garden at Chanticleer last weekend. I like complexity (not chaos; there is a difference). This teeters on the edge, but I think the striking forms of the Yucca rostrata and Agaves and trailing blue-gray ground cover make a strong, legible statement against the tapestry of clashing autumn colors. The golden early morning light makes it work. The contrast is shocking, but evocative of sense of place, in this case, Chanticleer, where you learn to expect the unexpected.

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Pictures vs. words

October 27, 2015


Recently I discovered an intriguing blog, The Brown Advisor, in this case referring to “the great landscape gardener, or place-maker, Lancelot ‘Capability Brown’.” I quote this from the blog, quoting Joseph Addison:

“‘Words, when well chosen, have so great a Force in them, that a Description often gives us more lively Ideas than the Sight of Things themselves. The Reader finds a Scene drawn in stronger Colours, and painted more to the Life in his Imagination, by the help of Words, than by an actual Survey of the Scene which they describe. In this Case the Poet seems to get the better of Nature; he takes, indeed, the Landskip after her, but gives it more vigorous Touches, heightens its Beauty, and so enlivens the whole Piece, that the Images which flow from the Objects themselves appear weak and faint, in Comparison of those that come from the Expressions.'”

Think about it. It sounds odd to us, enmeshed as we are in a highly visual age.

The photo is of the lake at Blenheim, made by Capability Brown.


I call this the Edgar Allan Poe season in my garden …


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The Old Rectory at Naunton

September 23, 2015

“I’ve always been drawn to plants which are on the wild side, drawn to gardens which are on the wild side, which feel like they might just be tumbling into something quite primitive and unmuddled with. The way I garden is to let things go almost to the brink of being lost, and that’s often quite a frightening thing to do.”

Dan Pearson, BBC Desert Island Discs interview February 2015


While I was fortunate to meet and spend several happy hours with the owners and the gardeners of The Old Rectory at Naunton, I didn’t attempt to take away their stories of the garden. This is a personal response to a garden that, on the surface, may appear to be merely an extraordinary ornament, but is much more.

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Green, green

August 23, 2015

Green, green grass of home


The garden by Christopher Bradley-Hole at Bury Court

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Catch as catch can

July 7, 2015

I’m leaving for England for a month tomorrow. Last weekend, I realized I hadn’t documented the garden’s summer progress, so I made the rounds.

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Hidcote – a Garden of Rooms

July 1, 2015

Hidcote is generally considered to be the apogee of the English Arts and Crafts garden, though it was made by a wealthy American, Lawrence Johnston. It is very much a garden of rooms, and in that way very typical of Arts and Crafts gardens of the period. I visited in May as a member of Carolyn […]

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Open Garden – Saturday, June 27

June 21, 2015

It’s time for another Garden Conservancy Open Day at Federal Twist, next Saturday, June 27, from 10 to 4. Everyone’s welcome. Click on the photo for a selection of views.  

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First seeing Rousham

June 18, 2015

Rousham was the last of many gardens I visited in May as a member of Carolyn Mullet’s spring tour of English gardens and the Chelsea Flower Show. Rousham was the only eighteenth century landscape garden on the tour. In that sense, it appeared to be an outlier, but it turned out to be a key to […]

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Off to England … working with carexTours

April 29, 2015

Is good fortune a kind of grace, a gift of an inherently generous universe? I’d like to think so. But it may just be the luck of the draw.

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April 27, 2015

The failed septic system in my garden represents the contingency we all live with, raising the question, in my case, of how to get the garden back. So it’s time to pause, look away from the present mess, and recollect the garden’s past–a long Flickr set of photos through the year. Click on the photo. (When […]

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Rot, decay, more life

April 20, 2015

Behind the house, a very old Japanese weeping cherry has reached the end of its life. Flowering has declined dramatically over the past few years and limbs have begun to rot and fall.

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Where not to put a garden

April 15, 2015

The best I can say is that it happened in the early spring. The plants aren’t up yet, and though a great deal of damage has been done, and much more may come, I can at least imagine the damage can be repaired. But in time?

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First salamander

April 12, 2015

One of the guys here to do some tree work last Thursday told me he had seen the largest salamander he’d ever set eyes on in my small reflecting pool. This is a spotted salamander, apparently common, but rarely seen, throughout the eastern US. When I found it the next day, it dove under water, […]

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What if a visitor arrives before the garden’s up to snuff?

April 3, 2015

One of the few disadvantages of a prairie-style garden is the mostly vacant stare it gives you until June. I have a garden visitor coming in early May, when the garden has barely begun to turn green and most of the high summer’s 12-foot behemoths are only 6 to 10 inches high. It certainly won’t […]

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Federal Twist in Elle Decor – Redux

March 14, 2015

Thanks to Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry, my garden makes a brief appearance in the April issue of Elle Decor.  I know Nancy and Susan from their recent book, Gardens of the Garden State, where they featured Federal Twist among the astonishing variety of gardens in New Jersey. Only one small caveat; I don’t agree with Elle Decor’s […]

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An artist

February 26, 2015

I recently saw an exhibit of the work of Judith Scott at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibit runs through March 29. Some of the work is beautiful. Some is deeply emotional, especially once you know her story.

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Paley Park

February 2, 2015

I stopped by Paley Park after visiting the Museum of Modern Art a couple of weeks ago. This is one of my favorite places in Manhattan. Probably one of the most tranquil places in Manhattan too, especially when it’s empty in early evening.

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MOMA Garden (yes, on iPhone)

January 28, 2015

Went to see Matisse cutout exhibition. Of course, I stopped to visit the garden.

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The Circle: Finished

January 26, 2015

We finished the stone circle last Friday, the day of my self-imposed deadline. Fortunate, because about five inches of snow fell Friday night.

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The Circle: Progress

January 21, 2015

One more day of work and it will be finished, just before a possible snow storm this weekend.

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In praise of weather (again)

January 7, 2015

I look at photos of Dutch and British gardens and am a little envious to see how long and gentle their autumns seem to be.  Our climate in the Northeast US is vastly different; our foul and stormy weather often comes much sooner. The garden was decimated by snow and freezing rain Thanksgiving week, two months earlier than last year. […]

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Stone circles

December 23, 2014

I’d been thinking about making more open space in my garden for a long time … a significant feature, somewhere in the middle. Then Carrie Preston visited from The Netherlands last summer and said, “Why don’t you use more stone. You have so much. Use what you have.” Or something to that effect. I eventually would […]

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December 21, 2014

Flaxmere, a garden near Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand, is a quiet beauty. We visited in February 2014, in the height of summer there. The country has such extraordinary growing conditions, some New Zealand gardens

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