Ramblings of a "New American" Gardener

In praise of weather

December 6, 2013

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This being the first fall in three years the garden hasn’t been trounced by early blizzard or hurricane, I’m thanking whatever powers may be for the aesthetic gifts of  the weather–fog, rain, cloudy days, the low autumnal sun when the clouds let it through.

Thursday morning, December 5, presented fog and a cloudy sky. Fog being a cue for a walk in the garden, I quickly threw on some clothes and headed out. We start outside the house, looking through the plantings that screen the high edge of the terrace, across the garden below, then descend to walk the paths of the main garden.


Wanting light gathering power, I experimented with my Sony DSC-RX100, which has an extra large light sensor. I set it on aperture priority, to capture as much light as possible. and bracketed the white balance, which gave me three photos for every one I took. That resulted in some abrupt changes in colors  you’ll notice in the photos below.

Moisture is a great friend of the senescent garden. Wetness, saturating the plant tissues, intensifies colors and color differences, making browns more brown, golden yellows more golden yellow, rust colors almost orange, even in low light. This plant grouping, largely self-seeded on the terrace above the garden, shows how dramatic this effect can be. Compared to the tall dark Inulas, you might think the Pennisetum ‘Moudry’ in the lower right is glowing from within.


In close-up, it’s even brighter. Hard to believe this was taken in very low light. (The black plant behind is Baptisia australis–what the voles didn’t eat last winter.)


The glass-walled house and Adorandack chairs facing the garden and woods beyond.


Looking down to the canal-like pond, about forty feet long.


Down in the woodland garden at the side of the house. This area is elevated; the land surface drops as you walk into the main part of the garden.






Continuing down the outer circumferential path, away from the house, I usually turn left to follow the main cross path, which intersects the outer path at the River Birch.






Structural remains of Lugularia japonica beside the golden lace of Panicum ‘Cloud 9’.




Tall Silphium perfoliatum and the Inula racemosa (seen above) add an intriguing gothic quality to the fall and winter garden, and they’re magnificent in snow.














A walk up the right-hand inner path back toward the pond.








Then turning back to see the area of the reflecting pool.
























Marc Rosenquist’s bronze sculpture is, for me, both a formal element and the metaphorical center of the garden, like a gravitational attractor pulling into a circular dance the multitudinous variety of living things. “The still point of the turning world … at the still point, there the dance is.”










Back to the main cross path.


A secondary path through the middle of the planted central garden. Scott Weber calls it gothic.


Approaching the end of the main cross axis, which curves sharply right and around the back of the garden.


Panicum ‘Dallas Blues’ turns an intense orange when wet …


… in dramatic contrast to the softer colors of miscanthus.


Skeletons of Aster tartaricus ‘Jin Dai’ and Teasel (Dipsacus fulonum) are highly ornamental and have a characteristic yellow-toned brown color.












A glance up to the house really makes you feel immersed in the garden, if you don’t already.


One of many tall Ironweeds (Vernonia).


My faorvite sitting area looks rather bare in winter.




























The circuit around the back of the garden completed, returning up the outer path toward the house.








Flame willows I got at the Swarthmore plant sale this summer.


Ascending the steps on the opposite side of the garden.








Back “up top.”








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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Cynthia MacMillan December 6, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Just wanted to thank you for your wonderful garden, your great photography and your blog. I discovered your garden during the Garden Conservancy tour in the spring. I look forward to each new glimpse. Have you considered writing a book? And please open the garden again. Thank you


James Golden December 7, 2013 at 8:16 am

Thank you, Cynthia. I plan to open it mid-summer and in fall on Garden Conservancy Open Days. If you’re nearby and want to visit, just let me know. This is a great time to visit, particularly on a morning with fog or light rail, or ice if we get so lucky.


Emily December 6, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Really beautiful photos, James. That P. “Moudry” is kind of strange looking, isn’t it? Just today, I was thinking that photography is an excellent (and common, I think) companion for gardening as one’s appreciation for the garden grows with close observation.


James Golden December 7, 2013 at 8:19 am

Emily, it’s certainly best to visit in person, but realistically, we simply can’t get to all the gardens we want to see. I think Photography is the only option. I also want to try movie clips but I have to master the technology. The P. Moudry has almost black flowers. When the plant turns that light yellowish color in the fall, the conntract is strange, isn’t it. It also tends to see around a lot.


Cindy at enclos*ure December 7, 2013 at 4:23 am

Amazingly beautiful — how can every season be better than the last?

I’m trying to work it out: the mix of many kinds of grasses and letting the browns, light orange, and blonds really do their work. Then the contrast of the black vertical lines of the dead flowering plants and just a bit of red and orange in berries and foliage. Some grey gravel and stone and a little shiny water. And only a few upright conifers.

Really inspiring “winter interest.”


James Golden December 7, 2013 at 8:21 am

Thanks, Cindy. I do think I want to add a few winterberry hollies (Ilex verticillata) in strategic points to introduce some more bright color, but not too much.


Faisal Grant December 7, 2013 at 5:11 am

Each one of these shots, James, is a work of art. I had no idea how beautiful you’ve made Federal Twist be. Totally joyful it is not to have green everywhere.


James Golden December 8, 2013 at 8:26 am

Not to belabor the point, but it is my favorite season in the garden, Faisal. Unfortunately, there are not many opportunities for sitting out for moments of contemplation. That’s better in the warmer seasons.


Iris December 7, 2013 at 7:26 am

what a joy you have shared… much appreciated


James Golden December 10, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Thank you, Iris.


James Golden December 7, 2013 at 8:23 am

Faisal, I have tons of green throughout the summer. This is absolutely my favorite time in the garden. I’m planning to keep a record to see how long the interest lasts. It will be interesting to see what happens if we have a heavy, wet snow. That will make a dramatic change.


Kathie December 7, 2013 at 9:35 am

Thank you for sharing your garden. It is so incredibly exquisite — as is your photography. It brings such joy into my life.


James Golden December 8, 2013 at 8:26 am

Thank you, Kathie. I’m glad to hear from you.


Rebecca December 7, 2013 at 10:41 am

I am so thrilled to find your blog. Your garden is truly one of the most beautiful and soulful that I’ve seen. And your photos? To-die-for gorgeous. Thank you for sharing your paradise with all of us.


James Golden December 8, 2013 at 8:28 am

I appreciate your message, Rebecca.


Deborah Silver December 7, 2013 at 6:38 pm

James, this essay is absolutely stunning. The garden-incomparable. A treasure. I so appreciate your taking the time to make your beautifully composed pictures of your garden available for me to see. Many thanks, Deborah


James Golden December 8, 2013 at 8:30 am

Thank you, Deborah. Weather is very much a part of the garden. I want to show that.


Pat Webster December 8, 2013 at 12:04 am

The soft light is wonderfully captured, James. I particularly liked the silhouetted plants — and the occasional photo that showed the red sculptural elements peaking through.


James Golden December 8, 2013 at 8:34 am

Thank you, Pat. I think the tall, dark silhouetted plants make the garden in winter. Still a work in progress. Are you back from Australia yet?


Pat Webster December 12, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Hi James, We’re in the departure lounge in Sydney right now, soon to board the flight to Vancouver, then on to Montreal. It’s odd to know we have about 24 hours of travel time in front of us, yet will arrive home the same day we leave! It’s been a great trip but I’m looking forward to some snow and cold temperatures — more time for thinking about the garden! Hope your trip to Australia is as enjoyable as ours has been. Pat


James Golden December 12, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I hope you have a pleasant flight–if such a thing is possible. I hope you’ll post some about your trip. It seems you’ve been there a long time.


Liisa December 8, 2013 at 6:04 am

Pure poetry, James! And you make me miss the seasons so…. I can almost smell the bittersweet anticipation of snow…


James Golden December 8, 2013 at 8:35 am

I hope you’re well, Liisa. Very different from gardens in Singapore, I imagine.


Rob (OurFrenchGarden) December 10, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Still beautiful in decay this early December. You remind me, I must introduce some teasel, they’re about and I’ve always loved them.

Do you have snow James? I’ve just read that around 64% of the US land area is covered by snow at the moment.


James Golden December 12, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Yes, Rob. The ice and snow arrived on the 10th, and the garden looks a scene of destruction. I hope it recovers to a state of meaningful dissolution in a couple of weeks, but this may have been the end. I do recommend teasel, but you have to control its rampant self-seeding. Or be sure to destroy many of the first year rosettes.


Les December 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Stunning photos James! Lately I have been enjoying the late fall season color palette, and your shots portray them well.


James Golden December 12, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Thanks, Les. I’m still suffering from camera envy (yours).


Paul W December 13, 2013 at 10:41 am

I’m absolutely smitten with your garden and your images. I’m a believer of perennials for mutliseason interest and your blog illustrates the concept (among many others) with grace and eloquence. I’ve only known about your blog for a few months but it seems you are very in tune with the ecology of a garden so I wanted to ask you about Miscanthus. I’m not judging at all – just wondering about your take on it. We recently built a new home and are planning our garden as we settle into the space and begin to understand it. Miscanthus frankly scares me a little based on our experience with it reseeding profusely in our last garden. We’ve already found a young clump by the state road at our new place even though there’s not a another clump within a half mile. It appears to be an issue for some regions more than others so it’s possible that my central VA region is just too prone to reseeding. How do you manage it? Do you see any reseeding issues? I love the look of them, but am worried about creating a forest of Miscanthus where I’d really like about a dozen. If this discussion isn’t well suited to this forum, please feel free to e-mail me directly (and remove the coment if you choose). Respectfully, Paul W.


James Golden December 14, 2013 at 12:03 am

Paul, I believe the further south you are the more Miscanthus can be a seeding problem. I do have some self-seeding, but it seems to be only the early blooming Miscanthus. Some of my so-called Gracillimus flower so late I’ve never seen any seedlings. On the other hand, some other so-called Gracillimus (I think from big box stores) does seed. I don’t think these would seed further north, say in New England, but I’m not sure. So I think lots of sun and warmth combined with early flowering varieties would cause you problems. I’ve never seen my Miscanthus giganteus self-seed, not does my Miscanthus purpurescens seed. I’ll send you a private email in case you want to discuss this further.

The nature of my garden, on the edge of wildness, makes Miscanthus extremely valuable to me as a groundcover (in addition to its beauty). So far the self-seeding I’ve experienced has not appeared to travel far from the original plants. But I’m looking out for the future and plan on experimenting with other grasses that can perform the function Miscanthus does in my garden. One solution, might be to buy Miscanthus in large containers so you can see that it’s very late blooming.


Paul W December 16, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I would like to continue the discussion, but didn’t see an e-mail. I may have incorrectly entered it the first time, but I double checked it this time. I look forward to continuing the conversation soon. Very best regards 🙂


Jan Johnsen December 17, 2013 at 2:34 pm

James – These are absolutely breath taking! Transcendant. You are both a great photographer and wonderful garden writer. Thank You.


James Golden December 17, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Thank you, Jan. Frankly, the fog helped a lot.


Jan Johnsen December 17, 2013 at 2:47 pm

I just linked to your blog on my Facebook page..Heaven is a Garden – https://www.facebook.com/heavenisagarden


James Golden December 17, 2013 at 3:24 pm

And thanks, again.


Denise December 17, 2013 at 9:12 pm

So where can I buy the notecards of these images, hmmm? Images so powerful I can feel the damp and hear the rustle of seedheads. Really fine, James.


James Golden December 17, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Denise, yes, I’ve thought about it. They’s could make fine cards, but that’s just not where my interest lies.


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