Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener

In praise of weather (again)

December 14, 2016

Old English dun, dunn, of Germanic origin; probably related to dusk …

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I think color is a good place to start, though perhaps not dun … rather gold, orange, black.

Three inches of rain left the garden wet, plant tissues saturated. A state that … especially in fog …

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… makes grasses radiant, and many perennials, dramatic, blackened specters. Such scenes can evoke varied, sometimes opposing feelings.

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This scene of glowing golden grasses and blackened stems of Inula suggests both radiant beauty and the roiling motion of an upheaving ocean swell, a turbulent center about to erupt. The symbolism is ambiguous, though even the imminence of chaos can be visually appealing from an aesthetic distance.

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Here the man-made chairs introduce scale and a human element (another kind of distance), and begin to suggest a narrative. This scene has some kind of story and is easier to read. It tames the raw feelings accompanying the entirely vegetative scene.

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Not just the idea of chairs now, but a very specific kind of chair, easily recognized by many gardeners as the Wave Hill chair, a version of the Gerritsen Rietveld chair. So this concept introduces a human, and very specific, culture and history into the garden. The concrete pavers and gravel suggest design intent … clearly a conscious opposing of order and chaos …

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… as does the stone circle, with its own human associations–community, ritual, Jens Jensen’s council ring, perhaps the charmed state of being inside and not outside the circle.

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Human scale and implied human presence again, but in a dramatically different color palette. Fawns, soft grays, a blue-green algal patina. A comforting scene suggestive of Monet. So different from intense colors of the grassy images …

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… though if you look closely, change scale, these colors are hidden in other parts of the garden, as here in the lichen crusted rock.

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Implied narrative again … curved path and curved stone wall, rhythmic placement of grasses, a bench, the intersection of paths … all signs of intentional design, and of movement from one place to another, to a place out of view. But in contrast …

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… scenes like this might be read as nightmarish, apocalyptic, a fantasy of darkness ruling over lesser dark powers. Yet from an aesthetic distance, the scene also has (for me) a powerful emotional charge and a kind of severe beauty like an expressionistic painting. The tall, dead multi-stemmed tree off to the side towers ominously; it’s threatening, overwhelming … some change seems immanent …

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… but this centered view of the same tree isn’t. Its position suggests stability, a cross perhaps, or a stylized flame, and to me something more … ceremony, magic, mystery, secret rites … like the stone circle.

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This change in background color and the thinner lines of the dark elements create a feeling of lightness …

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… and the burnished orange of this pollarded willow transforms the intense oranges and blacks of the grassy scenes into a glowing goblet of color. The willow seems to preen like a peacock.

Then colors change …

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… here, though I don’t know whether it’s the angle of the light or some other visual effect, the grasses are mostly pale pastels …

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… and here too, the lighter grasses allow the darker orange of the Lindera glauca ‘Salicifolia’, and the dark browns of the Baptisia and Datisca cannabina to play more dramatic roles.

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So much depends on weather…

… seeing the garden after Hurricane Sandy passed through several years ago, I first realized a garden undergoing destruction can be like a kind of artistic papermaking. (That may sound strange unless you’ve watched an artist making paper.) Most of the garden had been blown away, but the few ragged standing plants and, more to the point, the mass of compressed vegetation on the ground surface, was strangely beautiful, with different colors, shapes and textures shining in the wetness. Ever since, I’ve had a fondness for the more destructive aspects of the dying garden.

But to appreciate this requires some adjustment in expectation of what a garden can be.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Diana Studer December 15, 2016 at 4:05 pm

Your Wave Hill chairs are for the eye, not to sit on? They look uncomfortable??

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James Golden December 15, 2016 at 9:27 pm

They are for the eye and they are quite comfortable too. Even the original Rietveld chairs are comfortable. I sat in one at Mein Ruys’ garden in The Netherlands last August.

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Nell December 15, 2016 at 5:34 pm

We came home from a trip in early December to just such a scene: fog and mist slowly lifting to unexpected color: yellow and orange cartwheels of collapsed iris and daylily foliage; upright woody stems and branches suddenly assertively black in their dampness, and the few remnants of autumn leaves brilliant in contrast: garnet Itea, tomato soup Scotch rose, amber Viburnum. It was a celebration of decay, the last day of eerie warmth before real winter.

Glad to have had it: Next day breezy sun puffed the grasses back out again to restore their plumes as the garden’s eye-catchers, blew away all the colored leaves but the Itea (stained glass that glows all the way to the solstice), and dried the dying ground foliage to near-invisibility.

Howling winds tonight plunging us way too close to zero… I’m going to call up those tomato-soup rose leaves again.

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James Golden December 15, 2016 at 9:19 pm

We haven’t had a single frost so I haven’t seen the garden covered in ice crystals yet. Tonight may be between 10 and zero, our first serious taste of winter, though I don’t expect a crystal wonderland in the morning. Low humidity.

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Nell December 15, 2016 at 5:41 pm

The screen of hydrangeas fronting the bench is a painterly study in how elegant and stark pastel contrast can be.

And then the wet black lichened rocks shove aside all other ideas of painting.

Thanks for seeing so much and passing it on here.

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James Golden December 15, 2016 at 9:25 pm

And thanks for looking at my blog.

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Cindy MacMillan December 16, 2016 at 9:44 am

Your images and words are wonderful. I love this moody time in the garden. I love the color palate. Your mention of an ice crystals makes me yearn for more images.

Thanks for posting.

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James Golden December 16, 2016 at 11:53 am

I’ve been waiting for ice crystals but only rain, a bit of snow, no frosty mornings.

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Ragnar Naess December 16, 2016 at 6:55 pm

Fog and high contrast make some of the most beautiful images you’ve published. Only when mud season approaches do I find myself discouraged by the looks of things. Winter and autumn are fabulous. So delighted with your pix.
r

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James Golden January 31, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Thanks, R.

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