Tag Archives: Piet Oudolf

A review of Dreamscapes: Inspiration and beauty in gardens near and far, by Claire Takacs

 

All images © Claire Takacs/Hardie Grant

 

Claire Takacs’ Dreamscapes: Inspiration and Beauty in Gardens Near and Far is a welcome addition to the canon of photographic garden books. This book of notable gardens, some very well known, some less so, is far more than another pretty coffee table book. Takacs (pronounced “Ta-kahsh” with a long “a” and accent on the second syllable) values light above all else, and she shoots her images in the light of early morning and at the end of day, in fog and mist, or in other singular lighting conditions. Her techniques create images that are gripping and compelling. (Her work is frequently seen in the best garden magazines.) As this new book shows, Takacs gives us a new way of seeing gardens.

The long reflecting pool at Stonefields, Paul Bangay’s stellar home garden in Victoria, Australia. Using the first rays of morning light, Takacs captures the linearity of the pool, leading the eye straight out into the distant landscape, in an image very typical of her work. The dark sides of the topiary and shadowed area at the near end of the pool create a mysterious, almost transcendental quietude.

Takacs’ unique perspective makes looking through her book a tireless adventure, even after multiple viewings, and its generosity of spirit gives you plenty to see and think on. You’ll always find something you missed. The book is a valuable resource for designers, garden aficionados, or simply anyone with an interest in gardens. I’ve read reviews that see a message in the book about naturalistic gardens, but I’m hard put to decipher one myself–other than delight in exploration of design, plants, lighting, moods, space, in fact any of the innumerable elements that can go into the making of a garden.

The Supertrees in Singapore’s Garden by the Sea seem designed for the purpose of making striking photographs, but Takacs takes an atypical approach, shooting the immense towers from down low, capturing low side-lighting with dark shadows and using this unusual perspective to create an otherworldly effect that suggests a primeval nature contrasting with the modernity of the soaring skywalk.

Takacs presents gardens in a new light. Her photographs of two extremely famous gardens–for example, Piet Oudolf’s Hummelo in The Netherlands and Le Jardin Plume in Normandy–show her unique approach. Takacs concentrates on the play of early morning and late-day light in the gardens she photographs. And this technique often brings out an entirely new feeling, so that gardens we are used to seeing endlessly photographed almost look like different gardens. Take this photograph of Piet Oudolf’s Hummelo, for example.

This image of Piet Oudolf’s home garden Hummelo, by hiding the details of the plantings in shadow and emphasizing the agricultural landscape in which it resides, suggests a hidden, magical world by, strangely, preventing us from seeing detail. It’s a stunning image and one completely unlike any other I’ve seen of this garden.

Takacs aims for a feeling, and a new understanding, of an extraordinarily well known garden. Whereas most photographs of an Oudolf garden give close attention to the structures, textures, and colors of individual perennials and perennial masses, Takacs presents an overall mood, indeed a moodiness, that shows the garden in an entirely new way. Most importantly, she presents the garden as a part of a larger landscape.

This photograph is unlike any other I’ve seen of this extraordinarily well known garden–in fact, a garden that has become a virtual “requirement” for anyone with an interest in Oudolf and the New Perennial style. Takacs, by catching the surrounding agricultural fields in the morning light and throwing the garden proper into shade, behind a great camel-backed hedge, makes context the most important element in the image. I find this photograph extremely provocative, and it makes me think of Oudolf’s work in new ways.

Similarly, her photographs of Patrick and Sylvie Quibel’s Le Jardin Plume in Normandy glorify the light of the sun …

Capturing Le Jardin Plume in this moody way imparts a sense of mystery and melancholy, even abandonment, that is extraordinarily different from the images one usually sees of this garden. She shows the reader of her book how to see beyond mere prettiness.

… while thrusting the viewer’s eye down to the hard, brick paving and out toward the landscape, deemphasizing planting detail, a detail that is by far the most well known and recognized aspect of this garden. Landscape, atmospheric effects, mood are Takacs’ hallmarks, and she gives us a new way of seeing gardens we’ve become familiar with—or think we have.

Or take this garden by Fernando Martos in Spain. She beautifully captures mood in the sidelighting of the trees, the spots of light and dark in the meadowish planting, contrasting it with the dark plain of the background trees.

Dividing my time between my garden in far western New Jersey and city life in Brooklyn, it’s hard to know what individual garden makers are up to around the world. Sure, I read the garden magazines, socialize in an Internet way via Facebook and Instagram, attend conferences, follow blogs. I know the trends—the loose, herbaceous perennial nebulae and galaxies of gardens in the meadowish style, along with the tremendous influence of Piet Oudolf both on design and plant selection across much of the world, the more traditional Anglophile traditions of Rousham and Sissinghurst and Great Dixter and other icons of gardening, the rigid symmetries of Versailles and the Italian Renaissance gardens, the Char Bag gardens of India and paradise gardens of Iran, and the gardens of Asia, particularly Japan.

Bryan’s Ground, the work of David Wheeler and Simon Dorrell, well known among the garden cognoscenti, is worthy of much wider recognition outside the UK and Anglocentric gardening worlds.

But beyond all this are innumerable lesser known and unknown gardens—at least to the general public. Many gardens that I, for example, have failed to find, even when traveling with an eye to seeing gardens.

Cambo Estate, the work of head gardener Elliot Forsyth, is a Scottish garden well known to dedicated members of the gardening world, but unfortunately quite unknown to the general public. By featuring it in her book, Takacs may bring more widespread recognition to one of the outstanding gardens in the UK.

So much depends on chance contacts, a bit read here or there, the word of a person one trusts, access to local knowledge. So Claire Takacs’ new book is a welcome addition, providing a useful resource for those seeking new gardens to visit.

Hermannshof in Germany, an important garden in the history of the naturalistic garden of the 2oth and 21st centuries, is here shown in a highly creative “re-visioning” of the formal, annual border, reworked and “exploded” into a vision of almost kitsch, tongue-in-cheek glory. Famous within the community of garden designers for the innovative work of director Cassian Schmidt, Hermannshof is virtually unknown among the general public outside Germany.

Though based in Australia, Takacs travels the world every year seeking out the best subjects for her photography.

Wave Hill, owned by the City of New York, is a garden gem, one known by a small group of gardening cognoscenti, but mostly by locals. This garden was originally the work of Marco Polo Stufano, who retired in 2001, and is now being carried forward by Louis Bauer, the current director of horticulture.

She asks about gardens, seeks them out, and uses her highly personal techniques to make extraordinary photographs. Wave Hill (above) is one such garden I suggested she add to her list when she was on a photography trip to the Northeast US several years ago. She has many sources and is constantly planning visits to photograph gardens throughout the world from her home base in Melbourne, Australia.

Takacs’ new book is a valuable guide to those seeking gardens to visit, and a stunning book of photographic documentation worth a thorough study. I recommend it to you.

_______________

In the interest of being totally candid, my garden is in this book (and is certainly one of the lesser known gardens in it).

 

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.

Continue reading Book Review: The New English Garden by Tim Richardson

Visiting Lianne’s Siergrassen – with Carolyn Mullet’s Dutch Wave Garden Tour

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.

Part 2 – Vlinderhof – with carexTours

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 gave us a superb overview of Piet Oudolf’s work and Dutch Wave design, as well as glimpses into work of several other major garden designers, all packed into a week of two garden visits (sometimes three) each day. We also visited a couple of magnificent  nurseries, a museum, a garden tool maker, and a palace. Over the next few months, I’ll be telling you about my own experience on this great tour.

Continue reading Part 2 – Vlinderhof – with carexTours

Part 1 – First Visit to Hummelo – with carexTours

20160819-20160819-img_9127-2

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 it since. So when Carolyn Mullet, a well known garden designer from the DC area, gave me the opportunity to join her carexTours‘ Dutch Wave tour last August, I jumped at the chance.

Continue reading Part 1 – First Visit to Hummelo – with carexTours

That evening sun go down

20160804-IMG_7416

‘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 an evocative one, but it contains a hint of the dark to come, one William Faulkner recognized when he named a short story about a husband lying in wait to kill his wife ‘That Evening Sun’.

Continue reading That evening sun go down

Re-imagining nature – a review of Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

(This review originally appeared on the Thinkingardens website.)

Planting in a Post-Wild World COVER 3D

“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 of course the healing wilderness was as much the product of culture’s craving and culture’s framing as any other imagined garden… The wilderness, after all, does not locate itself, does not name itself… Nor could the wilderness venerate itself. It needed hallowing visitations from New England preachers…, photographers…, painters in oil…, and painters in prose… to represent it as … holy …”

–from Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory

  Continue reading Re-imagining nature – a review of Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West

Federal Twist in Elle Decor – Redux

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.

Elle Decor-2

 

Imitating New Zealand

Time and time again I drove past thousands of flowering Crocosmia on the roadsides of New Zealand, remarking to myself, “I’ll stop in a few miles and take a photo of this.” As a plant of South African origin, Crocosmia apparently loves Kiwi roadsides. I never stopped to take that picture, so the closest I can come is this Crocosmia planting pondside at the Christchurch Botanical Garden, strangely in the native plant section of that garden.

Continue reading Imitating New Zealand

More than the Lurie Garden

DSC03937
Note how the giant hedge encloses and separates this small part of the Lurie Garden from
the massive trellis-like structure and Frank Gehry’s visually dominating Pritzker Pavillion behind.

In Chicago for a family event last weekend, I hoped to see Piet Oudolf’s Lurie Garden for the first time. Unfortunately Chicago had its first major snow storm that week. The garden was closed. But all wasn’t lost.

Continue reading More than the Lurie Garden

Garden Diary: Integrating a new place

Perhaps a pool net isn’t the ideal focal point for the newest part of the garden, but it does catch the eye and gives a sense of scale. And there’s something about that blue I like.

Continue reading Garden Diary: Integrating a new place

Garden is a verb

“Garden is a verb,” he said to me.

Indeed. A garden is only finished when the gardener dies, or so the saying goes. Mine seems to be less finished with every passing day. Too many projects started over the winter, too much planting to be done.

You can see above the new reflecting pool area surrounded by a low berm for planting. The berm covers a prominent path I’ve long wanted to erase from the garden. It resembles a lava flow, and suggests the flow of water across the garden in heavy rain, a wash of soil waiting for nature (or a gardener) to populate it with plants. (This “flow” metaphor is an underlying design motif of this garden.)

The area still looks a mess but time has come to plant and deal with finish details. Will it look grown in by the June 29 garden tour deadline? I think so, at least enough to show the process of this garden. Once the weather warms, the grasses and perennials will grow quickly. What can’t happen for several years is complexity, the interweaving of mixed growth that only comes from self seeding, natural spreading of perennials, and yet-to-be-conceived human interventions.

20130428-IMG_2427

I’ll continue to use mixed planting (methodically described in the new book by Noel Kingsbury and Piet Oudolf, Planting:  a New Perspective), but my garden presents difficult constraints–that being heavy, compacted clay. Designing a planting for this garden is hit or miss. I certainly can’t start with a design on paper that considers only physical appearance and characteristics of the plants over time. I’m no Oudolf and, if I were, it wouldn’t do much good. Of the venue of extraordinary plants I know thanks to these two, many just can’t grow here. (My garden offers a rapid death to any Echinacea, as one example.) Finding the plants that will grow takes trial, experimentation. Oh, I can follow some basic principles–use moisture-loving plants, avoid those that require “well drained” soil, favor those with long tap roots, not fibrous root systems, favor vigorous, competitive plants that spread rapidly–but only success over several years can prove a plant’s ability to merely survive, or thrive, here.

Now I’m at the planting stage and realizing just to what extent garden is a verb.

To help get a more finished look quickly, I’m using large plants when I can get them: Rudbeckia maxima (five) in a group, several new and recycled Miscanthus, Panicums, two amazingly mature Baptisias I found at Paxson Hill Farm, and Pycnantheum muticum, which may eventually function as a matrix plant. I may even try to transplant some Inula racemosa seedlings for an immediate “mature” effect. Once the large plants are in, I have a mixture of other plants chosen for the dryer soil of the berm–20 Baptisia lactea, 10 Liatris ligustylis, several Angelica gigas, and a number of things to seed in:  Prunella grandifolia as a ground cover, Bronze fennel, Verbena bonariensis, of course.

20130428-IMG_2431

The frogs have even taken up residence in the new pool.

20130428-IMG_2445

The rough grassy area in the foreground of the pool is being planted with Miscanthus, which copes very well with the wet and the compacted soil, and will be a ground cover. I’ll scatter various Sanguisorbas among the Miscanthus mounds, and other things as I find what can thrive in this very damaged area (lots of tromping on the muddy clay last winter).

20130428-IMG_2446

In addition to this new reflecting pool and planting berm on the east end of the house, we also added two stone-walled planting areas in the slowing evolving woodland garden on the west end.

Here is the view up the path to the western woodland area.

20130428-IMG_2484

Lots of work left to do here. I moved Rodgersia to these elevated beds and planted Darmera peltata (roots, not plants), so it may be a while before the large foliage has impact.

20130428-IMG_2491

This is a very wet area; the small scattered stepping stones don’t work, visually or practically. I can’t afford real stone, so I’m searching for alternatives.

20130428-IMG_2492

The surrounding area I’m trying to turn into a shady meadow. It’s about half covered with Golden ragwort (Senecio aureus), as well as scattered ferns, Siberian irises, various carex and shade tolerent grasses, Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) and Pulmonaria.

20130428-IMG_2512

I’ve struggled with this wet, root infested end of the garden for years. The final solution may be a sea of Petasites.

Success. Failure. Chance. Change.

Garden is a verb.

 

Ecological disruption: Has Travis Beck been in my garden?

2013-02-15_16-34-40_17
Fallen giant White Pines: a major ecological disturbance next to my garden

Ecological Disturbance

I’ve been thinking about the seventeen tall white pines that fell just outside my garden, casualties of Hurricane Sandy, leaving a giant, linear wood pile on the southern border. Thinking specifically about how to accommodate my garden to their fallen presence and, in the longer term, to the effects their absence will have on the garden and the surrounding woods.

The garden will certainly get more southerly light now, but other less immediately obvious and long-term ecological changes will be set in motion too.

Continue reading Ecological disruption: Has Travis Beck been in my garden?

Garden visitors thumb

Garden visitors

Garden visitors (1)

Surprised, I was, a few weeks back to get an email from Noel Kingsbury saying he would be in the Philadelphia area for several days, and would like to drop by.

Garden visitors (2)

When we moved to Federal Twist in 2005 and I recognized I’d be gardening in a very difficult place, my hope for the future came from two books by Noel Kingsbury–The New Perennial Garden and Planting Design: Gardens in Time and Space (written with Piet Oudolf). In the first, I learned about naturalistic gardening, in particular about planting into rough grass. Continue reading Garden visitors

Is planting Dahlia ‘Bishop of Landaff’ an immoral act thumb

Is planting Dahlia ‘Bishop of Landaff’ an immoral act?

Is planting Dahlia ‘Bishop of Landaff’ an immoral act (1)
Look closely through the fog; the red blossoms near the center are Bishop of Landaff.

I support use of native plants in gardening. But I can’t find the visual richness and expressiveness I want with native plants alone. In my Rosemont Garden, and in my evolving garden on Federal Twist Road, I’m using both natives and non-natives. Where I live, that’s taking a political stand.

As preface, I want to say I attend the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference at Millersville University every year, I am a member of the Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve near New Hope, Pennsylvania, a member of the Hunterdon Land Trust Alliance, and a supporter of the Plant Stewardship Index (see June 9 posting on the archive site). I believe the American nursery industry should not sell plants known to be highly invasive in local habitats, and it should do much more to educate its own staff as well as its customers in the growth habits and needs of plants. Continue reading Is planting Dahlia ‘Bishop of Landaff’ an immoral act?

I dislike the phrase Sustainable Design but thumb

I dislike the phrase “Sustainable Design” but…

I dislike the phrase Sustainable Design butSince moving from Brooklyn to the country six years ago, I discovered an exciting, new approach to gardening. It revealed itself slowly, via books by Piet Oudolf, Henk Gerritsen, and Noel Kingsbury.

In five years, I established a garden in the hamlet of Rosemont, New Jersey, that relied on the principles and plant predilections of what has been called the New European Style of Perennial Gardening. This met my practical needs (heavy clay soil, windswept location, enormous deer population, limited time), as well as my aesthetic preferences (more on that later).

We sold the house and garden last year, and now I’m starting a new garden in an even less propitious location, on Federal Twist Road – thus the name of this blog. Continue reading I dislike the phrase “Sustainable Design” but…