Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener

Light in Autumn

October 22, 2014


Doublefile viburnum in red overlooking reflecting pool

Low and warm, the autumnal light sculpts the landscape of plants into a deep, three-dimensional screen. Backlit grasses and foliage glow, and sparks of light reflected through long irregular interstices give the garden a power lost almost totally when the day turns glum and cloudy.


Red Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), both self-seeded

Even a mostly dead, decaying False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa) with translucent red berries quickens with new life when brushed by the sun’s low yellow glaze.


This was the problem much of last Saturday, during the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour, when clouds predominated. The garden can be appreciated without the direct rays of the sun, but it’s something entirely different as you can see in the dull photo below. A jolt of sunlight would energize this Panicum ‘Cloud Nine’ and delineate its fine detail in gold.


Without sun, the garden is best in some extreme state of weather–fog or frost or ice–but that’s yet to come.

Here’s what light does.


Skeletons of Silphium perfoliatum, Rudbeckia maxima, still green Filipendula rubra, Miscanthus purpurescens

As Anne Wareham once wrote to me, “We garden with light.” This is what sunlight did not do during my Garden Conservancy Open Days tour last Saturday.






Looking through splayed Rudbeckia maxima, across the wet prairie space, toward the Salix sachalinensis ‘Sekka’



The mid-century, slightly Japanese house, dictates the naturalistic look of the garden



Wriggly Sanguisorba



Sanguisorba canadensis, dripping wet



Filipendula, browned Joe Pye Weed, Miscanthus purpurescens





Blackened Silphium perfoliatum, Cephalanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush)



Hydrangea ‘Limelight’, Inula racemosa ‘Sonnenspeer’



Inula racemosa ‘Sonnenspeer’, a fabulous winter plant, strong and highly sculptural



Three views looking through plants backlit by sunlight … Here a view of Marc Rosenquist’s bronze through Filipendula rubra. I naturally prefer the complexity created looking through screens of plants, though I don’t know why. It emphasizes the abstract, sculptural quality of the garden. Perhaps it appeals to a sense of refuge.








The box caterpillar, Rudbeckia maxima, skeletons of Silphium perfoliatum, a small Doublefile viburnum at left



Yin and yang, light and dark, Panicum ‘Dallas Blues’ and black Silphium perfoliatum





Seed box (Ludwigia alternifolia), a lovely native



The long pond, masses of Sanguisorba canadensis



This winter I’ll build a small deck so guests can sit looking out across the length of the pond.




Reflecting pool in morning light



Seedling Silphium lanceolatum



The terrace and Adirondack chairs



Seed heads of Ligularia japonica



Woodland garden, potted Monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii) waiting to be planted, red foliage of Nyssa sylvatica







Hosta and Helleborus foetidus



Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’





You might question why anyone would make a book on the gardens of New Jersey. In fact, that’s a question the authors asked themselves before they started the research for this book.


If you take a look at Gardens of the Garden State, by Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry, I think you’ll see why this is a valuable contribution to the history of American garden culture.


In spite of what many might think the state is like, New Jersey is rich in significant gardens. This large-format “coffee table” book presents twenty-eight gardens of widely varying periods and styles, and it really touches only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.


My garden was the last picked to be included and in my opinion, it’s the outlier, quite different from most of the other gardens illustrated in this significant new publication.


The photography, by Gemma and Andrew Ingalls, is extremely good (my scans don’t come near doing their photography justice). The book is published by Monacelli Press and available at your local book seller, or through various web outlets, though I encourage you to support your local book store.



Well, that’s what Noel said. It seemed to ring true. Everyone was lively and happy and interested.

[..


Hillside Garden of Rooms

October 12, 2014


It was proof, yet again, that looking at photographs is an entirely different experience from actually seeing a garden. Michael Gordon’s garden in Peterborough, New Hampshire, is one I’ve admired for years in photographs but experienced for the first time only last August at the Garden Conservancy Open Days. The astonishing composition of textures, shapes, and colors above is a beauty I’d have been unable to appreciate if I hadn’t been there.

[..


Click photo for information and directions. Featuring a plant sale by Broken Arrow nursery.



Post image for Federal Twist in Sept./Oct. issue of Horticulture

Tovah Martin wrote a superb on-point article on my garden for the September/October issue of Horticulture magazine. Rob Cardillo took great photos. You can read Tovah’s words in the most recent issue of Horticulture (I’m not so sure you can easily read her text in the scans in this post). Rob’s photos were extraordinary, but printing on less than stellar stock and then scanning the paper copies brings them down several notches. But you get the idea. Click on the images to enlarge them.









PHS Garden Tour a Great Success

September 9, 2014

Federal Twist was on the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Bucks County Garden tour last Sunday. (Okay, I’m in New Jersey. But Bucks County is only three miles away!) We had a great turnout–far more visitors than I expected at this time of year. The garden is in one of those “in between” times so I set up […]

[..


September 7, 2014

Innisfree is a naturalistic garden in the Hudson River Valley inspired by the 8th century garden of Wang Wei. 

[..

Mellow Yellow

August 16, 2014

It’s a riotous time in the garden. Not really mellow yellow.

[..


July 26, 2014

Big prairie plants are dominating. By mid-July the Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta’ is fading as the Silphium perfoliatum and Rudbeckia maxima flower at their fullest.

[..

Early summer

July 9, 2014

Early July and the flowering has begun. It’s a pleasant diversion, but flowers aren’t my primary interest in the garden. What really gets my attention are the sculptural forms of the plants and the complex patterns they make growing in community. Most of the garden is very tightly planted, by intention, so the patterning becomes quite complex. I push […]

[..

After the tour

July 6, 2014

The Garden Conservancy Open Days tour last weekend (June 28) was a very pleasant day. Warm and sunny, with much lower humidity than last year.

[..


June 25, 2014

 Garden Conservancy Open Days Saturday, June 28, 10 am to 4 pm You’re welcome to stop by this Saturday, June 28, for the Garden Conservancy Open Days here at Federal Twist. We’ll be open 10 am to 4 pm, as will several nearby gardens in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. My driving directions are here. The Bucks County gardens are here.

[..

Thomas Rainer: Interpreting nature

June 21, 2014

I’m too close to the subject of this post, so it hasn’t come easily. My intent has been to write about Thomas Rainer’s lecture at New York Botanical Garden in March, but I’m in such complete agreement with him, I find it hard to distinguish my own thoughts from my memory of Thomas’s presentation. That […]

[..

Straightening trees, opening voids

June 13, 2014

My previous post showed the Sunburst honey locusts in my Brooklyn garden bent over into a mass of drooping foliage at the center of the garden. When Kerry Hand, who planted the same trees on his land in New Zealand, commented “Don’t think I would like that,” that really got under my skin. So late Wednesday […]

[..

Brooklyn status, for Diana (on mobile phone)

June 10, 2014

Diana Studer of Elephant’s Eye recently asked about the Brooklyn garden. Here it is, Diana. With the Garden Conservancy Open Days coming up June 28, I’ve been focusing all my attention on the country garden. Brooklyn has had to get by with a few minutes each week. Here it is after a day of rain. […]

[..

Hold that date … Garden Conservancy Open Days … Saturday, June 28

June 7, 2014

Federal Twist will be open Saturday, June 28, for the Garden Conservancy Open Days, 10 am to 4 pm, along with several gardens in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. More information and driving directions are at the Garden Conservancy web page here. You can find a direct link to the Bucks County gardens here.  

[..

I’ve been reviewed

June 4, 2014

  Thanks to Lucy Masters for a review of Federal Twist on thinkingardens.

[..

No visitors allowed: plant communities emerging

May 22, 2014

Most of the garden is missing. I have to say “No” when people want to visit Federal Twist at this time of year.  Though some interesting things are happening, my garden depends on the structure of large plants for much of its effect. By late June–when it’s open for the Garden Conservancy Open Days–it’s ready […]

[..

Bloodroot season

April 21, 2014
Thumbnail image for Bloodroot season

When they appear depends on where you look. Two weeks ago, this small colony of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) outside our living room window burst into bloom. It has a southern exposure and is protected by the ivy it grows in and by its closeness to the house. Over the years, two more colonies have emerged […]

[..

Imitating New Zealand

April 3, 2014
Thumbnail image for Imitating New Zealand

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 […]

[..

Accidental encounter … Shigeru Ban

March 25, 2014
Thumbnail 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, […]

[..

Garden Diary: Late, better than never

March 24, 2014
Thumbnail 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.

[..

Wigandia: a garden of the sun

March 12, 2014
Thumbnail 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, […]

[..

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.

[..