Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener

Fernando Martos is experimenting with a new style of planting design, mixing the traditional formality of Mediterranean gardens with light and airy perennials and grasses not typical in this region.

This guest post is the second in a series on planting design by Giacomo Guzzon, an Italian landscape architect 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 believes landscape architects need to be much more knowledgeable in planting design so that they are able to create characterful, living landscapes that meet the needs of users and reflect existing ecological conditions and sense of place. He is 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. He travels widely to meet designers from all over the world, observe planting projects in different climates and environments and share his passion with other professionals.

While a movement toward a more naturalistic look in planting design has been widely adopted in many parts of the world over the past several decades, garden designers in the Mediterranean region have mostly kept to clipped evergreens and a limited range of plants naturally adapted to a hot, dry climate and lean soil. Seeking to broaden the palettes in which they work, some Spanish designers are breaking new ground and beginning to use grasses and herbaceous perennials with light, delicate structures, the ability to sway and move in the wind, to “perform” in all seasons, and to evoke a wider range of emotional responses throughout the year. It is surprising how resilient and sustainable such designs are proving to be, largely owing to the willingness of some designers to experiment with plants from other parts of the world as well as plants usually associated with more northerly latitudes.

Veronicastrum virginicum, Verbena bonariensis, and other herbaceous perennials performing beautifully during an extremely hot day in central Spain.

A few years ago while reading Gardens Illustrated, I by chance came across an article featuring a residential project by Fernando Martos. At the time I didn’t know much about Fernando’s work but I was immediately drawn to the beauty of his design and surprised by how well his experimental planting fit the Spanish countryside. The plantings looked different and unusual, but at the same time appropriate to their context. I think this was the first time I’d seen such a light and airy herbaceous planting in a Mediterranean climate.

Such herbaceous lightness isn’t typical in central Spain planting designs.

I was curious to find out what perennials and grasses, many of which are commonly used in Northern Europe, were thriving in Spain. I eventually contacted him and asked to visit some of his projects.

Grass and herbaceous perennials visually blend with the natural landscape.

Fernando kindly agreed and last summer I flew to Madrid and spent a weekend with him visiting gardens. My timing wasn’t good (or perhaps it was perfect); I managed to visit Madrid during one of the worst heat waves of the summer; temperatures were around 36C (97F). So armed with big water bottles, we started the tour.

At the garden at Finca las Tendas, Fernando encloses a large, rectangular open space with long rectangular beds of clipped shrubs mixed with meadow-like plantings.

Finca las Tendas

The first garden we visited after my arrival in Madrid was Finca las Tendas. This project is in a rural area with vineyards north of the capital, designed around several newly refurbished one-story buildings used as a venue for weddings and events.

From the opposite end, the banking of grasses and perennials brings a vivacity to the clipped Salix balls.

The building layout creates a central rectangular space, surrounded by the venue on three sides and open to the carpark on one side. Fernando divided this large central space and created two main garden rooms by planting tall evergreen hedges, which also separate the garden from the carpark.

The larger garden room has a central area, which lies lower than the surrounding buildings and is planted with Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Skyline’ trees. These light canopy trees are evenly spaced and planted on a grid, to filter the light and provide some shade while still maintaining an open character. This place, surfaced with self-binding gravel, is used for gatherings and buffets.

Informal, colorful seating allows attendants at events to appreciate the light shade of the Gleditsia and enjoy the pleasing contrast of formality and looseness in the plantings that define the space.

The geometrical pattern of trees is completely appropriate to its utilitarian uses, and visually links it with rows of grape vines planted in the fields outside.

A shaded central pavilion for additional functional space that divides the functional area into two separate parts is integrated with the border plantings.

Between the central area and the venue, generous planting beds wrap around the open area, creating a transparent buffer. These beds are planted with Salix purpurea pruned in cloud forms and intermingled with colourful perennials. Salix purpurea is a very robust shrub that thrives in exposed and coastal sites, and it responds very well to regular pruning. While Fernando uses some elements typical of Mediterranean gardens, like the pruned shrubs, he puts them to a new use, for example by juxtaposing topiary with perennials and grasses unexpected in a Spanish setting.

Cloud pruned Salix purpurea anchor the much looser perennial plantings.

The perennial plant species Fernando uses are unusual for the area. He selects species that can cope with the heat and the challenging growing conditions. These species, although not typical or indigenous to central Spain, give a pleasantly fresh, airy and colourful feeling to the composition and surprisingly don’t conflict visually with the surrounding landscapes. A plant like Panicum virgatum, an American native, is a very drought tolerant species (in fact, I have seen it growing in pure sand in a very hot valley within the Walking Dunes on the east end of Long Island in New York). Verbena bonariensis, Calamagrostis, Hemerocallis spp., Iris barbata, Veronicastrum, Sedum, Agapanthus, Stipa tenuissima, Calamintha nepeta and Echinacea can all cope with the hot temperatures and were thriving with the help of some irrigation during the hottest months. All these exotic perennials, combined with native plants, such as Laurus nobilis, Quercus ilex, Morus alba and Olea europea, create a new and unexpected atmosphere and help to connect this project with its rural Spanish location.

Loose plantings at the edge of this pool provide a transition to the wider landscape.

The two rectangular pools, one in each garden, mirror the sky and the adjacent planting and at the same time unconsciously convey to the visitors a feeling of freshness, a much welcomed illusion in the torrid summer. Moreover, the shapes of the pools recall the long irrigation ditches that one can see in the countryside, another subtle element that anchors this garden in the wider landscape.

Guadalajara Garden

The second garden we visited near Guadalajara had a more rural setting; it is immersed in gently sloping hills planted with olive trees located roughly 60 km north-east of Madrid. The garden is surrounded by a rolling landscape, and the approach drive from the main road to the house on a country road creates a feeling of anticipation as you near the house and garden.

At the Guadalajara garden, the weekend retreat of a couple from Madrid, Fernando used very simple plantings on the entrance side of the residence–large blocks of Miscanthus ‘Ferner Osten’ and clipped Escallonia.

The private house, a weekend retreat of a couple from Madrid, is a modern white finca, or country home. The entrance garden at the top of the driveway echoes the building’s linear, low, simple character. Fernando decided that this area needed a simple and formal approach to feel appropriate next to the modern house. The entrance landscape features a large block of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’ and another one of Escallonia spp. gently pruned into a rectangular form.

The opposite side of the house presents a completely different character, with a central lawn and swimming pool at a lower level, surrounded by mixed and block perennial plantings designed to create a meadow-like appearance.

After arriving we quickly walked around the corner of the house where we encountered a completely different atmosphere. The back garden has a central lawn area for the children’s activities, surrounded by large planting beds that frame the garden and blend it with the surrounding landscapes.

The planting is colourful and lively, and gives a varied, exciting character to the place.

A large, perennial meadow stretches to the open fields and blurs the garden’s boundary.

 

The meadow – another view

To the right of the main house and in front of the guest house, a large perennial meadow stretches into the surrounding fields and blurs the garden’s boundary. Fernando here designed a plant community that is able to withstand dry soils and torrid heat. Lavandula is intermingled with Perovskia, Stachys byzantina, Iris germanica, Stipa tenuissima, Phlomis russeliana, Achillea and some evergreen shrubs pruned in cloud form. These shrubs link this meadow with the other part of the garden around the pool.

The mass and stillness of dark blocks of clipped Escallonia contrast dramatically with the lively, light-filled wands of Stipa gigantea (see next photo).

An essential element of the planting is the use of dark blocks of clipped Escallonia whose mass and stillness contrast dramatically with the lively, light-filled wands of Stipa gigantea. “For me,” Fernando said, “that effect is very important and a key of the project.”

Light-filled wands of Stipa gigantea

Fernando’s remark is certainly revealing. It clearly tells us that he is seeking subtle effects that are something new in Mediterranean planting design. He is experimenting and pushing the boundaries to find plants that can thrive in his local conditions.

The pool area lies below the grade of the surrounding garden and it is planted almost exclusively with evergreen shrubs, though, as noted above, given a lively sparkle by interplanted Stipa. These shrubs resemble the native vegetation that can be seen all around the property, helping integrate the garden with the wider landscape.

The evergreen shrubs (right) visually integrate the pool with the wild landscape (left)

Because the pool has no edge and no fence is visible, it seems to be immersed in the Mediterranean vegetation.

Fernando Martos’ work represents an important part of a new movement in Mediterranean landscape design, especially in the Madrid area. It combines the botanical richness, eclecticism and abundance of plants from other parts of the world with the evergreen forms and prominent structural plants typically present in Mediterranean gardens.

Fernando Martos

It will be interesting to see how these new design approaches develop in Spain, and how they evolve and influence planting design in other parts of the Mediterranean region.

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The woodland garden, with a thick ground cover of Packera aurea, Matteuccia struthiopteris, Onoclea sensibilis and many other plants. At this time of year, most garden interest is in the complex ground cover.

We left for over three weeks in Barcelona and southern France in early May last year and returned in early June. I entirely missed spring in the garden.

Then yesterday I got a text message from garden designer friend, Keith Gibialante, who lives across the Delaware in Pennsylvania.

Spectacular early foliage of Ligularia japonica emerging from a carpet of Petasites and Equisetum arvense, with the long canal pond in the background.

It seems Keith came by to visit while I was away last spring, and finding I wasn’t at home, let himself into the garden and took some photos. (He has a standing invitation to visit, so long as he latches the gate on exit to keep the deer out.)

Golden foliage of Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst’ magnifies the golden flowers of Euphorbia palustris scattered across the garden.

In yesterday’s text message Keith said he thought he forgot to let me know he’d visited, and he included a link to his photos.

It seems I just discovered last spring in the garden!

I liked the images so much (you should see the garden now, after cutting and burning, and a March with four nor’easters, and now rain; it’s beyond dreary), I asked Keith if I could use them in a brief blog post, to remind myself that … indeed … spring will eventually arrive.

The terrace outside the house, up high, looking across the garden, which is below. The ground layer needs to be cut back, but that had to wait until I returned in June.

Looking at Keith’s photos makes me feel a lot better.

I remove much of the Inula racemosa ‘Sonnenspeer’, the plant with the big leaves (its mature height is six to eight feet). Fortunately it’s easy to remove at this stage.

 

 

The sitting area outside the house gets a lot of morning sun, as does the house, with its large floor-to-ceiling windows. The wide eaves cut off the direct sun inside by about 10 am and three large Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis), planted when the house was built in 1965, shade the outside area all afternoon. I’m sure “sustainable design” wasn’t a term anyone had thought of back then, but the architect, William Hunt, was a fine one and he clearly took some useful lessons from Frank Lloyd Wright and from Japanese design.

The living room is flooded with light (and passive heating in winter) until mid-morning, and the outside sitting area is shaded from late morning to the end of day.

 

Down in the garden, across from the house, are a paved pathway across the garden and a circle of stone, reminiscent of Jens Jensen, overlooked by three large Salix udensis ‘Sekka’ (Japanese fantail willows).

If you look closely, you’ll see many golden-flowered Euphorbia palustris scattered across the garden.

The chairs (from Dan Benarcik of Chanticleer) make a lovely structural contrast with the emergent wild look of the garden. By mid-summer, they will be invisible.

 

Below is the main path across the center of the meadowish garden.

A bronze sculpture at the back of the garden, made by Marc Rosenquist, emerges from a colony of Petasites japonicus.

The central path across the garden again. The white flowering shrub is a Viburnum mariesii, a small tree among the more than eighty Juniperus virginiana we cut down to make space for the garden. I cut the Viburnum to the ground but it clearly wants to come back. I think it was probably planted when the house was built, so keep it for historical and sentimental reasons.

You can just see the “head” of my long box “caterpillar” in the middle right surrounded by a sea of Inula, most of which were removed when I returned from vacation.

A small reflecting pool nestled up against the bank up to the house (above).

And the view from above. Thanks, Keith.

 

All photos courtesy of Keith Gibialante. All rights reserved.

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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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June 17 – Garden Conservancy Open Day at Federal Twist

June 2, 2017

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 […]

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Creating nature … at the Chelsea Flower Show

March 7, 2017

(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 […]

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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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