One of the few disadvantages of a prairie-style garden is the mostly vacant stare it gives you until June.
I have a garden visitor coming in early May, when the garden has barely begun to turn green and most of the high summer’s 12-foot behemoths are only 6 to 10 inches high. It certainly won’t be in character, won’t have the sheer mass, the atmosphere, none of the magic of the big garden of summer. I looked through photos I took of the garden on May 8 of last year, just to remind myself what to expect. (And, yes, to set expectations.)
One can hope for a mysterious atmosphere, but the setting sun and cloudy sky are hard to deliver on cue.
Thanks to Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry, my garden makes a brief appearance in the April issue of Elle Decor. I know Nancy and Susan from their recent book, Gardens of the Garden State, where they featured Federal Twist among the astonishing variety of gardens in New Jersey. Only one small caveat; I don’t agree with Elle Decor’s editor saying I “dispensed with a traditional garden all together, filling the area around the house with a meadow.” I see it most definitely as a garden, not a just a meadow. But that’s just a quibble. I understand a magazine needs to tell a compelling story in very few words.
I’m happy to be paired with Sigrid Gray, who formerly managed Piet Oudolf’s Battery Bosque in Manhattan. I met Sigrid once, in the early days of that garden on Manhattan’s Battery.
Yes, to those of you who’ve seen this on facebook, I’m double posting, just for the record.
If you click on the image below, it should expand.
I recently saw an exhibit of the work of Judith Scott at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibit runs through March 29. Some of the work is beautiful. Some is deeply emotional, especially once you know her story.
I stopped by Paley Park after visiting the Museum of Modern Art a couple of weeks ago. This is one of my favorite places in Manhattan. Probably one of the most tranquil places in Manhattan too, especially when it’s empty in early evening.
I look at photos of Dutch and British gardens and am a little envious to see how long and gentle their autumns seem to be. Our climate in the Northeast US is vastly different; our foul and stormy weather often comes much sooner. The garden was decimated by snow and freezing rain Thanksgiving week, two months earlier than last year. This is about what remains.
I’d been thinking about making more open space in my garden for a long time … a significant feature, somewhere in the middle. Then Carrie Preston visited from The Netherlands last summer and said, “Why don’t you use more stone. You have so much. Use what you have.” Or something to that effect. I eventually would have done it, but Carrie’s push moved me into action.
Flaxmere, a garden near Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand, is a quiet beauty. We visited in February 2014, in the height of summer there. The country has such extraordinary growing conditions, some New Zealand gardens
Apocynum cannabinum (Dogbane, Amy Root, Hemp Dogbane, Prairie Dogbane, Indian Hemp, Rheumatism Root, or Wild Cotton)is a perennial herbaceous plant that grows throughout much of North America – in the southern half of Canada and throughout the United States. It is a poisonous plant: Apocynum means “poisonous to dogs”. All parts of the plant are poisonous and can cause cardiac arrest if ingested. The cannabinum in the scientific name and the common names Hemp Dogbane and Indian Hemp refer to its similarity to Cannabis as a fiber plant (see Hemp), rather than as a source of a psychoactive drug.
Although dogbane is poisonous to livestock, it likely got its name from its resemblance to a European species of the same name.
In the fall, when toxins drain to the roots, the plant can be harvested for fiber, which can be used to make strong string and cordage for use in bows, fire-bows, nets and tie-downs.
Last photos, taken November 13, before a small snow and plunging temperatures. Winter arrives in another month, but the last few days have felt like February. I’ve been reading about atmosphere and mood, but I’m not sure it’s possible to put a name to what I feel in the garden. Perhaps it’s too personal, perhaps it lives in the body and can’t be described in words. Consider this–though the subject is literature, I think the experience of the garden is relevant. The text focuses on the German word Stimmung:
“I would like to propose that interpreters and historians of literature read with Stimmung in mind …
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.
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.
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.
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 a slide show of the garden in all four seasons. Several visitors asked me to put it up on my blog. You can access it by clicking on the photo above. That will take you to my Flickr page. Click on the third symbol from the right near the top (it looks like a box) to start the slide show, which will open in a new window. To stop it close the window, or use your Esc key. Sorry I can’t make it simpler than that.
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 it to the max. Some might say it’s messy, but I like it. It’s edgy certainly, aesthetically risky, a delicate balance between chaos and order.