Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener

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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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 planning. Grasses must be cut and moved if too near shrubs, under tree canopies, or too near the property line, so the two of us do a kind of dance–cutting, moving, mounding, and burning.

The largest, highest flames last only 15 or 20 seconds, then quickly die down to a more controlled burn.

A full-flowing hose is always ready to extinguish any errant flame, which likes to creep outward, burning the leaf cover.

After an area is burned, I wet it thoroughly with water, rest, and move on to another part of the garden.

Later we’ll use a weed trimmer to chop any remaining large pieces, sweep the paths and paved areas, then wait for the rains of spring to wash the charred matter into the soil. The fire opens the earth a bit, so I often do some seeding now (in addition to seed I broadcast in the autumn).

The black remnants of fire absorb heat from the sun and stimulate new growth as the weather warms.

One part of the cleanup, cutting the tall perennials that won’t burn, is usually the last task.

New growth will begin to show almost immediately if we don’t have freezing cold for long periods.  By April the ground cover layers will have emerged, and by mid-May the garden will be green again.

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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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A Garden in Movement

January 18, 2016

  I just received the pdf of the January article on Federal Twist in Garden Design Journal, published by the Society of Garden Designers (UK). Be forewarned, it’s readable if you click two times, but really a hassle to get through unless you have a large screen.

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