Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener

Sloterdijk intermodal station, the site of one of Ton Muller’s major public planting designs in Amsterdam (described below).

Resilient and sustainable planting design has become a subject of major interest in the world of landscape architecture, particularly for urban parks and public horticulture. Significantly, Marc Treib has organized a major symposium on the importance of planting design in landscape architecture at the University of California at Berkeley for February 2018 (The Aesthetics of Planting Design). Such a major international conference devoted to this subject is rather epochal in the world of landscape architecture, particularly in the United States, where landscape architects are assumed to care and know little about plants, though this seems to be changing. One who clearly does is Michael Van Valkenburgh, whose work I have had the opportunity to see a lot of, living in New York City. In 2013 Van Valkenburgh said in Landscape Architecture magazine:

“When I first taught at Harvard in the early 1980s, a colleague … told me that landscape architects need to know only 10 species of trees, 10 of ground covers, and 10 of shrubs—the super-hardy ones. This is like telling writers they can use only 30 words. There is no possibility for subtlety, precision, and richness, but plenty for uniformity and boredom. When the vocabulary of landscape architecture is chosen based only on the need for easy and economical plant survival, it is impoverished.”

This guest post is the first in a series by Giacomo Guzzon, an Italian landscape architect, and a close friend, working in central London for Gillespies, a large, international landscape design firm. Unlike most landscape architects, Giacomo has an extensive knowledge of plants not common in the profession. He is also a visiting tutor in planting design at Sheffield University and a visiting lecturer in planting design at Greenwich University School of Landscape Architecture in London.

Over the summer Giacomo arranged for a tour of plantings designed by Ton Muller, a Dutch landscape architect in Amsterdam who works for the city design office. Ton has developed a reputation for sustainable and visually appealing plantings in public urban spaces. On that summer day, they were accompanied by Ton’s co-worker Joost de Wit, a landscape architect who formerly worked with Giacomo at Gillespies, and Alessandro Solci, another landscape architect and co-worker in Amsterdam.

Here is Giacomo’s report on what Ton is doing across the Channel.

 

A pedestrian lingers in the generous herbaceous plantings between a bike park and the rail station.

As a landscape architect working for a large firm in London I’m fortunate to be able to meet designers from all over the world. I strongly believe in the importance of sharing ideas and knowledge and, being a part of such an international environment, I’m able to explore how other landscape architects are using planting design, and to observe best practices in other countries and other climates. To help sensitize other landscape architects to the importance of planting design, I organise garden visits and planting walks with my colleagues, and I also often travel and meet designers from other parts of the world. Sharing a common interest and passion is a great way to meet other professionals, learn from their experience, and spread the word.

Ton Muller

I’ve admired the work of Ton Muller for a long time, having first discovered it on Instagram. When I learned that my former Dutch colleague, Joost, was working in the same office in Amsterdam, I immediately told Joost of my wish to meet him. Ton kindly agreed to show me a few projects around the city, so back in June I travelled to the Netherlands to meet him. I was particularly interested in his work because, among his other interests as a landscape architect, he is designing planting projects in public spaces–an area of particular interest to me.

A few years before, while on a tour with other horticulturally inclined friends, I had the opportunity to see one of his projects, the Orlyplein square in front of Sloterdijk Station, and I was extremely impressed with his work. The planting was lively and full of colour, but at the same time robust and sustainable. And it felt appropriate in its context, using a wide, mixed herbaceous planting to separate the rail station and commercial area from a large bicycle park opposite it.

Ton was trained as a landscape architect and has many years of experience designing public spaces for the city of Amsterdam. He told me that he has been interested in plants since he was a kid. Interestingly, he prefers to design plantings for public spaces rather than gardens. Ton sees urban planting as one of the important elements of the wider cityscape; therefore resiliency, biodiversity, beauty, and toughness have the highest priority.

On our first stop, we visited a series of plantings within larger lawn areas along a busy street (Van Leijenberghlaan) not too far from the Amsterdam South Station. These beds were planted several years ago and since then have been maintained by the city.

Resilient, low-maintenance plantings along Van Leijenberghlaan, a busy Amsterdam street

Maintenance is minimal and only involves cutting the plants down in spring. It’s interesting to observe how this planting is developing considering that, after the establishment period of only a few months after planting, no additional irrigation has been provided. This is an experimental planting; some plants are growing better than others, and some species are clearly dominating such as Molinia, Salvia and Helianthus. Phlomis russeliana and Coreopsis tripteris have also self-seeded among the beds. Here plants were planted singly and in small groups within a Molinia matrix.

Phlomis russeliana has proven to be a very resilient species, surprisingly adapting to a wide range of light conditions.

This rather simple planting is more easily cared for by city staff who don’t have the time to tailor a sophisticated maintenance regime. They will simply mow the planting.

Urban plantings must be designed for a variety of conditions. Here is a drought-resistant planting for shade.

We then moved to a smaller residential street planted in the centre with a double row of trees. In the buffer area between the buildings and the pavement, Ton designed a planting to withstand drought and shade while looking good throughout the year. Here some plants were installed in much larger groups than in the previous project. Liriope muscari and Brunnera macrophylla are used to cover large areas and within this green carpet smaller groups of more characterful perennials, such as Rodgersia aesculifolia, Aruncus dioicus, Bergenia ‘Eroica’, Polystichum setiferum, Anemone and Kirengeshoma palmata, were used to add variation and interest.

Ofter overused, Liriope muscari can be an effective groundcover plant in the right context. Here the the highly decorative foliage and emergent flowering spires of Rodgersia aesculifolia make a dramatic contrast to the Liriope.

This scheme is very successful and plants are thriving happily in the dappled shade of the existing trees. Along the buildings’ boundary line Hydrangea aspera macrophylla was planted to soften the edge between the planting and the apartment blocks.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Rodgersia is usually thought of as a plant for moist conditions. Here it is thriving in dry shade.

The Rodgersia aesculifolia was looking particularly healthy and happy in this dry, shady area, even without irrigation. I was quite surprised because I’d always thought Rodgersia was a far more moisture dependant species. This planting shows how a sustainable scheme with low inputs can be achieved when the right plants are chosen. Ton selected only species that are resilient and robust and do not demand any special maintenance, especially considering that the city will take care of these beds.

Another thing this planting taught me was that plants often respond to environments in ways very different from what is taught in books. Actual experience growing the plants is absolutely essential to learning how they respond to different growing conditions.

The tour continued through the Mahlerplein on the top of a bike garage Ton designed. This planting was different from all the others; it did not use any herbaceous perennials.

Not all of Ton’s planting designs are herbaceous. Here trees and lawn complement the hardscape on the Mahlerplein.

The square features a series of lawns retained by a continuous stone bench/wall and offers the perfect spill-out area for people working in the surrounding buildings during lunchtime. Only Gleditsia and Robinia trees (six different cultivars) were planted, all very resilient and drought resistant species, with a rather light canopy allowing light to reach the ground and creating a comfortable open environment. The city of Amsterdam is paying a lot of attention to the selection of trees for new projects in order to diversify the tree stock with more resilient and stress tolerant species. This example shows how a successful planting design responds to the function and character of a place. In this case, maximizing useable space was more important than creating an ornamental environment.

A planting for a very dry site in the rain shadow of a building.

We then continued the tour in the neighbourhood close to the South Station, which is undergoing a major redevelopment. This planting was particularly interesting because it showed perennials used in groups and scattered in random matrices. One simple but effective mix was designed for a very dry and challenging site, a narrow bed in the rain shadow of a cantilevered building, using Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’, Liriope muscari ‘Moneymaker’ and Carex morrowii planted in random layout among groups of Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae and Phlomis russeliana.

On the other side of the street, an area below large existing canopy trees was planted with a woodland mix. Here the shrub layer is composed of large existing shrubs and some new groups of Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Sikes Dwarf’ dotted among the perennials. The groundcover layer is composed of tough, robust species such as Euphorbia amygdaloides, Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokova’, Dryopteris affinis, Liriope muscari ‘Moneymaker’, Brunnera macrophylla, and Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’. This planting is young now, but it promises to be very effective.

Around the corner, we saw another planting in a more open location. Here the shrub layer was composed of large, approximately 1.8-m high-multi-stem Amelanchier trees placed among the perennials. The perennial mix features Luzula sylvatica, Bergenia ‘Eroica’, Geranium x cantabrigense ‘St. Ola’, Liriope muscari ‘Moneymaker’, Phlomis russeliana and Anemone x hybrida. All these simple plantings were composed of few but very robust species that will thrive in the city and enrich the cityscape with flowers and varied textures and leaf forms over a long period.

A sunny planting within an asymmetrical square surrounded by new buildings on the Beethovenstraat.

Before ending the tour at the Sloterdijk station we visited a planting within an asymmetrical square surrounded by new buildings on the Beethovenstraat. Because this planting is more mature and all plants are intermingling, it is more difficult to spot the different groupings. The planting is divided into a shade and sun area, unified by multi-stem Koelreuteria paniculata trees used throughout.

A planting in shade within the same square.

The shaded area on the south side of the square is planted with Carex morrowii, Liriope ‘Moneymaker’, Dryopteris setiferum ‘Dahlem’, Polystichum polyblepharum, Euphorbia amygdaloides and Hydrangea petiolaris.

The sunny area is covered with many different flowering perennials. At the time of my visit some in flower were Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’, Echinacea pallida, Phlomis russeliana, Festuca mairei, Euphorbia characias ‘Black Pearl’ and Asphodeline lutea.

 

We ended our tour at the Sloterdjik Station, which is the only project I had visited before meeting Ton. The area I knew was the square in front of the station but we arrived at the site from the back of the station and Ton showed me an area of planting that I hadn’t seen before.

I was amazed by the large planting along the tracks—basically a matrix of Sesleria autumnalis with blocks of Salvia nemorosa ‘Blauhügel’, Euphorbia waldsteinii ‘Betten’, Limonium latifolium, Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ and groups of Phlomis russeliana and Amsonia hubrichtii.

The simple but bold mix works very well in juxtaposition with the cityscape and the large dots of salvia create a real wow factor. The planting is beautiful, fresh and contemporary, turning an essentially dull infrastructure area into a visually compelling place.

We then moved to the square in front of the station, which is essentially a green roof over the top of the submerged part of the station. The design features a series of planted and hardscape areas providing seating opportunities and refuge for commuters.

The structural layer here, the framework of the planting, is composed of multi-stem trees such as Crataegus coccinea, Amelanchier, and some botanical roses, and by tall perennials such as Veronicastrum and taller grasses.

A matrix of Sesleria autumnalis and Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’, in a detail from the planting above.

The seasonal theme layer, the flowers of the composition, is composed of Symphyotrichum, Amsonia, Hemerocallis citrina, Anemone x hybrida ‘Richard Ahrens’, Sedum and Phlomis russeliana.

The groundcover layer, the filler in the scheme, is Sesleria autumnalis and Geraniums. Another layer of interest through the seasons is provided by bulbous plants, such as Alliums, Narcissus, Camassia and Crocosmia, which will slowly disappear within the other perennials after flowering.

I have admired this planting scheme from the moment I saw it. Not only is it robust, resilient and able to withstand the harsh urban environment, it also beautiful and diverse. It radiates joy and creates a welcoming environment in this very utilitarian setting—an important message to send to users in what otherwise could be sterile, unattractive, dull urban areas.

Hemerocallis citrina

Ton’s method is to use mixed planting schemes to bring the feeling of nature into the city. He selects plants according to their needs and habitats, creating designed plant communities in which plants intermingle and create a complex environmental system able to withstand urban stresses such as drought or extreme weather. According to the character and function of a place, and using various natural habitats such as woodlands, woodland-edge or grassland as inspirational models, he selects from a pallet of both native and exotic plants. Shrubs and trees also play an important role in his compositions; they create the framework, giving structure and stature to a planting.

When designing a plant community, Ton first chooses the matrix species to hold together the planting and look good throughout the year. These need to be well-behaved, long living, sturdy and clump forming species. In sunny conditions, these could be, for example, Molina, Sesleria or Calamagrostis and in the shade, Carex, Liriope, or Heuchera. He then chooses plants that will add character, distinctive form and colour during a particular time of the year. Borrowing a term from the book ‘Planting in a Post-Wild World’ by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, he selects the seasonal theme layer.

Some of the species Ton uses for this purpose are Hemerocallis, Salvia, Amsonia, Aster, Rudbeckia, Limonium, Stachys, Iris sibirica, or Geranium for sunny areas, or Tiarella, Rodgersia, Brunnera, Bergenia, Luzula, Blechnum spicant, Dryopteris or Euphorbia amygdaloides for shade.

Joost de Wit, Ton Muller, Giacomo Guzzon and Alessandro Solci (l to r).

Ton’s work in public spaces is exemplary of the kinds of plantings needed in urban landscapes. They are functional, resilient, beautiful and habitat-specific. His work demonstrates that alternatives to the uniformity and blandness that we often encounter in less prominent urban areas can be created by designing the plant palette to meet functional requirements and by selecting plants appropriate to environmental conditions, while giving attention to the character and genius loci of each site.

 

You can follow Giacomo on Instagram at Giacomo_Guzzon and Ton Muller at design_by_nature.

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Post image for Book Review:  The New English Garden by Tim Richardson

I met Tim Richardson, almost accidentally, last September in London. I’m republishing a review of his still very relevant The New English Garden. Take a look if you haven’t read it.

 

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. Having my own recent experience with photographers who don’t know how to photograph gardens, the impressive work of photographers Andrew Lawson, Jane Sabire, and Rachel Warne is executed with knowledge and skill. One could hardly do better than study the photographs in this book to learn something about how to do it right.

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Late summer

August 27, 2017

What can I say? I’ve neglected to document the garden’s progress this summer. By way of comparison, you may want to see my last post on the garden in the early days of summer, way back on June 2.

You’ll see quite a difference. In fact you will not see some things from the earlier post at all. The plants are now so tall much of the garden has to be explored step by step. Now when you walk the garden, it’s an immersive process, a journey; you almost feel your way through.

Now is the time of gardening by subtraction. The diagonals and acute angles the giant Silphiums fall into are appealing in their quixotic way. They create a structural tension I find even more interesting than the flowers. But when they lean across paths and block the way, it’s time to pull them out. So these weeks of high summer, when the tall yellow Silphium, Eutrochium and Inula are peaking, weekly removals are essential.

This is a time of blue sky days. To see out, you have to look up. The dark woods circling the garden, and the tall plants reaching upward, naturally carry your eyes to the sky. It’s almost as if the garden is a golden bowl open only at the top.

So take a wander …

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parts of the garden incorporate the forest edge, so even at high noon you find a chiaroscuro of light and dark …

 

… a great relief from the brilliance of the more open garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The forest edge encroaches in several places along the garden’s circumference. This is the largest such incursion; I call it the woodland garden … and a pleasant place it is to sit, even on hot days.

 

 

 

 

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Last summer I visited gardens in The Netherlands as a member of Carolyn Mullet’s Dutch Wave tour to see the work of Piet Oudolf and many practitioners of the garden design movement he largely created … the Dutch Wave, often called the New Perennial movement. My experience on this tour convinced me this is the best way to see gardens in distant places. The itinerary is well organized and packed with engaging destinations, and all the logistics of travel and lodging are taken care of for you. I’ve traveled on my own to see gardens but I find traveling alone, making multiple arrangements for transportation and lodging, even finding the gardens, very stressful and time-consuming. If you want to see gardens, this is the way to go. Click on carexTours for more information, and for a special price available until July 8.

Clouds and misty rain only amplify colors, form and atmosphere in gardens. On the day we visited Lianne’s Siergrassen, the subdued light and wet conditions actually deepened the colors of the plants in Lianne’s vast demonstration gardens. A phlox shining out from the darkness within grass heavy with moisture …

… or a fading Rudbeckia standing tall against a multicolored background of beautiful perennials, in fact everything, was saturated with subdued, evocative color .

The gauzy effects of the light heightened the diaphanous quality of some grasses, as here where grass makes an ornamental screen against the blurred background.

Because these are demonstration gardens, Lianne shows many ways to combine the plants she offers, sometimes growing them in large monocultural blocks, as with Hakonechola shown here …

… and in smaller, discrete blocks …

In other parts of the garden she uses mixed plantings to highlight similarities and contrasts in shape, texture, and color …

 

 

Nic and Sally, dressed for wet weather, but all smiles as they explore the riches of a nursery like few others.

Such beautiful combinations as this–do they come about through chance or careful forethought? I imagine the former, but sometimes you just have to let the plants do what they do, and appreciate the result.

Here a sea of mixed grasses, carex and sedum.

And Althea cannabina, a plant I first saw in the summer of 2015 in London, a miniature-flowered hollyhock, which has become rather commonplace in Europe, though I have yet to see it in the US (except on the High Line) seen here at full height …

… and here in close-up.

Here a matrix of grasses (Little bluestem) and perennials (Liatris and other things) patterning the ground surface …

… another mixed planting of a Solidago, Pycnanthemum, and grasses …

… and the bold foliage of a Miscanthus contrasted with a cloud of Sporobolus heterolepis in flower.

The combinations of grasses and perennials work at different scales. Below, the gauzy Sporobolus setting off the dark seedheads of what appears to be a Penstemon digitalis.

And Guara lindheimeri, its sharp white flowers ornamenting the soft grasses behind.

The bold seedheads of Veronicastrum offer a dramatic contrast with the background of grasses (and with the dark foliage of trees).

If you look closely, you’ll see Carolyn almost buried among the grasses.

Lianne’s Siergrassen is only one of many destinations on the Dutch Wave tour. You can also visit the iconoclastic Jac. P. Thijssepark, the Piet Oudolf-designed Vlinderhof, gardens of Noël van Mierlo, John Schoolmeester’s work at Kasteel Geldrop, Van Nature, Piet Oudolf’s own private garden Hummelo, Peter Janke’s Hortvs nearby in Germany, the historic Het Loo Palace, the Kröller-Müller Museum, Henk Gerritsen’s Priona garden, the gardens of Mien Ruys, Jaap de Vries’ Jakobstuin, and many other gardens, special nurseries, and other sites. For details, go to carexTours.

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Federal Twist will open for the Garden Conservancy Open Days on June 17 this year–earlier than ever before–and you are welcome to come. For information and driving directions, click on this link.

It’s been a rainy spring and I’m just back from almost a month in Spain and France. Over the next two weeks I’ll be busy “editing” the plants and pondering how to turn their profuse spring growth to best advantage.

The images in this post were taken on June 1 last year, so they are as close as I can come to showing what’s likely to be here on 17 June 2017 (a Saturday). I expect the daylilies will be in flower, the Japanese irises and Iris ‘Gerald Darby’, the Baptisias. Perhaps the Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta’ will be in bud. It all depends on the warmth of the coming days.

Come with an eye for detail. My garden is very much in the spirit of the layered plantings advocated so eloquently in Thomas Rainer’s and Claudia West’s book, Planting in a Post Wild World. Plant form and structure, and the interplay of shapes and textures, are the main thing in late spring and early summer here at Federal Twist.

Here is the Garden Conservancy description of the garden:  ‘When we moved into a mid-century house overlooking the woods, I immediately knew only a naturalistic, informal garden would be appropriate to the place. The garden is hidden. You enter through the house, where you first glimpse the landscape, a sunny glade, through a wall of windows. Huge perennials and grasses evoke an “Alice in Wonderland” feeling (many plants are taller than you). The garden is in the New Perennial tradition: plants are massed in interwoven communities, and emphasize structure, shape, and form—which are long lasting—rather than flower.

Begun as an experiment to explore garden making in the challenging conditions of unimproved, heavy, wet clay, the garden is ecologically similar to a wet prairie, and is maintained by cutting and burning. Much of the garden peaks in mid-July, when plants reach mature height and flower, then a second peak occurs in October when low sunlight makes the grasses glow in yellows, russets, and golds.

Two small ponds attract hundreds of frogs, insects, and wildlife. Many gravel paths open the plantings to extensive exploration. The garden has been featured in The New York Times, Horticulture magazine, and in two books, Gardens of the Garden State (2014) and Planting in a Post-Wild World (2015). Recently, it appeared in the Garden Design Journal, the magazine of the Society of Garden Designers (UK) in January 2016, in the September 2016 in Gardens Illustrated, and the October issue of Better Homes & Gardens.’

Please consider visiting on June 17. Tickets, available at the door, are $7, fully in support of the work of the Garden Conservancy.

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I’ve recently started a small garden design business on retirement from my full-time work. To visit my garden design website, click on the link below:

www.federaltwistdesign.org

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(I visited the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time in 2015, as a member of Carolyn Mullet’s Chelsea Garden Tour, given by CarexTours. Carolyn is now offering a special price on this year’s tour, but the offer expires March 15th. You can check it out here. This year’s line up of gardens looks really exciting. I’ve been on two of Carolyn’s tours and I recommend them highly.)

It may have been with intentional irony that Dan Pearson chose the most problematic site at Chelsea for his 2015 Chatsworth garden–a roughly triangular plot surrounded on all sides by broad, paved walkways and completely open to its surroundings. The image above shows the garden as I first saw it, in the midst of a moving crowd. There was so much visual distraction, at first I couldn’t see it. That is …

… until I got up close.

Quite a debate was sparked by Dan’s Chatsworth garden at the time. Media coverage focused on the the actual transport of a piece of the Chatsworth estate’s landscape, including trees and huge boulders, from the north of England to London. (This hyped media story “had legs,” at least in the British media.)  Some said this wasn’t a garden at all, that it was simply a natural piece of landscape moved to a new and novel place. Others said it certainly was a garden, not just a page torn from nature. In fact, it was both, and it was most definitely a designed garden.

In recently re-reading Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, I came across this passage, which set me thinking about Dan Pearson’s garden again:

“The irony of creating plantings that evince a sense of nature is that it requires a high degree of artifice. Literally transposing thirty square meters of a forest into an urban courtyard may not create the feeling of a forest at all … Exaggeration is at the heart of this process. Natural landscapes have impact because of their massive scale and the repetition of key patterns and processes over hundreds of acres. By comparison, our urban and suburban sites lack the size and context of their wild counterparts. In the wild, all of the details— sky, rock, soil, water, and plant— work together to create a rich sense of place. In contrast, buildings, roads, and cars often surround our designed landscapes. Our towns and cities are visually complex. In fact, our gardens are more likely to be surrounded by streetlights and power lines than waterfalls or boulder outcroppings. So in order to immerse a visitor in the feeling of a forest or grassland, we have to turn up the volume, creating designed plantings even more intense than their natural counterparts.” *

So in this “visually complex” site full of crowds and movement and distraction, I found perhaps one of the most peaceful gardens ever made. Once I focused my attention on the details of the garden, though the crowd didn’t fade away, I felt I was a participant in another world. Dan is noted for his sensitivity to sense of place, and here, in the turmoil of a busy day at Chelsea, his garden existed as a separate place, “creating designed plantings even more intense than their natural counterparts.”

Dan created pools of water, silent streams, miniature vignettes that, though they look entirely natural, combined plants from at least three continents. The plant selections were most definitely “exaggerated” in the sense that they intensified the experience of Chatsworth’s “nature.” Below, at left a Mahonia, a native of North America (‘Soft Caress” I believe) and at right a delicate Disporum, a native of China.

One might call this a garden of extreme artfulness, or exaggerated subtlety (irony abounds). Specially planted wildflower turf was grown on a thin substrate, brought to the site, and carefully adhered to the natural rocks. Below you can see the edge of the wildflower turf exposed slightly by the beating rain on the day I visited.

And here, American camassias with native British plants.

Creation of this artificial stream took great skill and knowledge.

This intriguing walkway, which goes nowhere, evokes many associations with the British past (some religious, some cultural).

I’ve read that some wept seeing this garden.

I was trying to take photos in the rain, with crowds buffeting against me; conditions could have been better.

If you want to see some fabulous images, just look at the main page of the Dan Pearson Studio website, where you will see a selection of full-screen images (without the crowds).

Of course the garden won “Best in Show.”

 

*Rainer, Thomas; West, Claudia (2016-02-04). Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes (p. 146). Timber Press. Kindle Edition.

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Garden Diary: late winter cleanup

February 26, 2017

This was the front garden on January 23. It lasted well into winter. But old growth must make way for the new, so last week my garden helper and I began cutting and burning in the back, and largest, part of the garden. This week we started with the front garden. Cutting and burning takes careful […]

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A place for melancholy

February 8, 2017

Perhaps I should title this post “In defense of melancholy.” Attracted by the mist and the sun rising behind the trees this morning, I opened a living room door, leaned out and took this photo of the garden. I posted it on Instagram. Several people commented, a rather rare occurrence on Instagram, so I interpreted this […]

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Part 3: Noël van Mierlo’s Balancing Act – with carexTours

February 5, 2017

As a member of Carolyn Mullet’s Dutch Wave tour in August 2016, I joined a simpatico group of international garden travelers with a special interest in the work of Piet Oudolf and many practitioners of the garden design movement he largely founded … the Dutch Wave, often called the New Perennial movement. The carexTours itinerary […]

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Part 2 – Vlinderhof – with carexTours

December 22, 2016

As a member of Carolyn Mullet’s Dutch Wave tour in August 2016, I joined an extraordinary group of international garden travelers with a special interest in the work of Piet Oudolf and many practitioners of the garden design movement he largely founded … the Dutch Wave, often called the New Perennial movement. The carexTours itinerary […]

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In praise of weather (again)

December 14, 2016

Old English dun, dunn, of Germanic origin; probably related to dusk … I think color is a good place to start, though perhaps not dun … rather gold, orange, black.

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Part 1 – First Visit to Hummelo – with carexTours

November 27, 2016

I’ve been in love with Piet Oudolf’s gardens since I came across a copy of Designing with Plants by Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury while browsing in Barnes & Noble in 1999. I’d never before seen the kinds of startlingly romantic, lush, naturalistic, absolutely stunning plantings I found in that book. I was smitten, and I haven’t gotten over […]

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October into November

November 21, 2016

‘I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ – John Keats   I don’t have much to say about these autumn photos of my garden. The rising light of morning and the lowering light of evening create a palpable atmosphere. […]

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Open Garden, Saturday, Oct. 8, 10-6

October 4, 2016

Federal Twist will be open for the Garden Conservancy Open Day this coming Saturday, along with nearby gardens just across the river in Bucks County, PA:  Paxson Hill Farm and Jericho Mountain Orchards. We’re happy to have as guests Broken Arrow Nursery, Atlock Farm, and Orchard Jewelry. Click on the photo for more information.

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Federal Twist in Gardens Illustrated

September 1, 2016

An article on Federal Twist is in the September Gardens Illustrated. This issue won’t reach the US until sometime near the end of September. So here, forthwith, a scan, which I realize may be difficult to read (click images to enlarge them, click again to enlarge more).

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That evening sun go down

August 10, 2016

‘I hate to see that evening sun go down.’ The line comes from W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues, composed by the man called the father of the blues. I think the power of this lyric comes from the sheer poetry of words and image. Why did Handy say “hate to see”? The image of the lowering sun is […]

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Water from the sky

August 2, 2016

So our brief, but heavy, thunder showers last week changed their duration. Instead of 20 minutes of heavy, deluge like, rain, it came for hours, over and over again.

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High Summer

July 29, 2016

It’s late July and I haven’t posted on the garden’s progress for over six weeks. So much for my garden diary … After a drought of several weeks, we’ve had a long period of frequent, often violent, thunderstorms with torrential rains, mostly lasting only 20 or 30 minutes, but certainly stressful for my structural perennials and grasses. […]

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June 1 – Rush to summer

June 8, 2016

Once warmth arrives, the garden luxuriates in planty fleshiness, growth proliferates, detonates in slow motion.

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Broughton Grange: the garden with no point

May 4, 2016

‘”I started collaging as an escape from making meaning. I got tired of writing poems, of trying to make sense – verbal sense. It is a relief to make a different kind of sense – visual sense. One must think, of course, but it is an entirely different kind of thinking, one in which language […]

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Holding pattern

April 21, 2016

Until summer arrives to ripen the garden, I’ll be looking back to last summer. Click on the photo to enter the time machine.

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Which way, please?

April 7, 2016

The garden in early April is mostly invisible. This is its skeleton. By mid-June the rapidly growing perennials and grasses will make most pathways disappear, creating a new landscape, a virtual new topography.

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Clean slate

March 14, 2016

The burning and cutting is done. Within a month, with warmer temperatures,  thousands of grasses and perennials will break the surface, and a textured plain of green will emerge.

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A review of “The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer” by R. William Thomas and the Chanticleer gardeners

February 5, 2016

“The entrance to the Chanticleer garden, in a wooded countryside just outside Philadelphia, could be described as a portal into a horticultural parallel universe … The brief is simple: innovate, innovate, innovate. There are more ideas at Chanticleer than any one garden could reasonably be expected to accommodate, and visiting is an intense experience for […]

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Re-imagining nature – a review of Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

January 24, 2016

(This review originally appeared on the Thinkingardens website.) “The founding fathers of modern environmentalism, Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, promised that ‘in wildness is the preservation of the world.’ The presumption was that the wilderness was out there, somewhere … and that it would be the antidote for the poisons of industrial society. But […]

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