Filling in the blanks

I felt something was missing in The Good-for-Nothing Garden–the story about my garden that appeared in the New York Times yesterday. The story was right on spot–perceptively, sensitively, and humorously written by Michael Tortorello.

But the photos focused primarily on plant portraits, making it impossible for readers to get a sense of the garden as a whole. I missed some visual representation of the spatial character of the garden, a more long distance view, and that has since been confirmed by many visitors to the Garden Conservancy Open Days. So I want to address that perceived imbalance. Without narration, here are some photos I took this morning between about 9 and 10 am. None of them give a full overview of the garden, which is very difficult to do, but they do help. They’re oversized so you can expand them with a mouse click.








































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69 thoughts on “Filling in the blanks

  1. Beautiful. You are giving me the best of mid-Atlantic fall, as I sit back here in Kigali. If you continue having Open Days, I so hope that I can visit next year. I was a bit disappointed in the slides as well — except for that gorgeous first photo that ran over the article and the views from the house. But he captured your ideas about emotion in the garden very well.

    1. Yes, I did like those two photo. They gave a sense of the garden, particularly the Maurice Sendak opening photo. I have no reservations about the article. It was superb. Yes I plan on being on Open Days next year. Hope it’s when you’re in the US, though you’d be welcome anytime for a private visit.

  2. As gorgeous as those pics are, they still give us only tantalizing hints of the entire affair. There is no sense of border. No Claude Glass. It’s like one of those infinity pools. This is one of the best reasons for visiting the garden, and yes, we are up and having coffee and will hit the road at a good hour!

      1. Huh. Though you’d read The Bad Tempered Gardener. I think I discussed the Claude glass in it…
        You looked in it backwards so would be odd in photography but maybe like the effect of looking at a reflection of a garden. I think the camera serves something of a similar function to the glass. Frames and focuses the view, making a ‘picture’.

          1. I have forgotten much of what I wrote, so can hardly blame you for forgetting what you have read. Sadly, if you read it again, if you are my age you will no doubt forget vast chunks of it within five minutes.
            But I see we have upset Billy by becoming fashionable (which is wonderful and rather surprising news to me).. Xx

          2. Anne Wareham October 22, 2013 at 3:34 am
            I have forgotten much of what I wrote, so can hardly blame you for forgetting what you have read. Sadly, if you read it again, if you are my age you will no doubt forget vast chunks of it within five minutes.
            But I see we have upset Billy by becoming fashionable (which is wonderful and rather surprising news to me).. Xx

            My my Annie you have such a lot of time on your hands it seems!! XxXxXx

          3. I’m changing the subject, but this is related to the phrase, “I hate gardening,” which is really only an exaggeration for shock effect.

            I attended a lecture by Gilles Clement last night. It reminded me of some of the things I do like about gardening. I like letting plants self-seed, seeing what patterns emerge, deciding what to remove for aesthetic reasons or to prevent some other desirable plant from being overwhelmed–letting plants do what they know to do–an example of what Clement refers to, I believe, as “natural genius.” He used as one example a Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) in his home garden. He acknowledged it’s often considered an undesirable weed, but he likes it (as I do). So he let it self seed and changed his garden to allow the plant to do what it wanted to do.

          4. It could get you fined or arrested in many of the endlessly lawn-bound suburban communities in the US too! I have read of people being arrested in communities in eastern Pennsylvania.

          5. That could definitely get you arrested here–not just in a “lawn-bound suburb” but anywhere in Washington State. Here, hogweed is a “Class-A” noxious weed and, as it hasn’t escaped into the wilds YET, there is a zero-tolerance policy. I am amused, sometimes, to see how many garden-worthy plants from other regions hold places on our noxious weed lists. I’d wanted to plant a fennel in the back garden and I had to drill down to research the restrictions as it appears on our Class-B noxious weeds list. (It’s OK in our urban county.)


          6. Here it is supposed to prevent plants escaping into ‘the Wild’.

            Which, as ‘the Wild’ ceased to exist here many 100’s of years ago, probably explains why I am not actually aware that we have ever had any arrests…

          7. I think the science behind such lists tends to be highly politicized, and as climate changes, the lists must change. This all falls too easily into patterns of thinking that lead some to talk about “illegal aliens” vs. “natives.” And look what we did to the “native” Americans.

      1. I did, thanks! It left me wondering how they calculate their “month” but I didn’t question it as I was grateful for the opportunity to read the article. And even leaned a new fact or two 🙂

  3. Cindy at enclos*ure introduced my to your blog when she recently visited my garden in Wisconsin. What a pleasure to read the story in the Times on Thursday. And yet another pleasure to have these views. Only wish I could be there in person today.

    1. Before the Garden Conservancy tour, I had a group of 35 on Thursday morning. Upon coming in, the group leader told me, “They only want to know the names of all the plants.” I understand that. I see something I want and I’m curious about the name. But I agree, the obsession with plants can obscure the vision of the garden, totally eclipse it.

  4. James, you have created the only garden I know that is immune to the camera! I haven’t figured it out yet, but it is really quite delightfully impossible to take a representative photo of it. It must be visited, and we are so very glad we did! (Your visitors today were a wonderful lot full of interesting comments and info!) We love your garden. It’s a natural orchestration of temperamental/calm, peaceful/stormy, shocking/soothing. You make it look effortless but it is obviously the work of your masterful hand and vision. And to think of the many ways it changes in the course of a year! Bravo.

  5. Oh oh.. I spotted a blank frank conifer..ruined my day..might have to knock a star or 2 off my review…lets not get all controlled,clipped and clichéd please!! Leave that equation for the Europeans!

  6. What a feast for the eyes to enjoy with my coffee this morning. The last shot of the pond suddenly made sense of it, although I still feel it is out of scale with the rest of the garden.

  7. I’m so glad you posted those photos. I was disappointed in the photos in the Times article. It’s like zooming in on the ballerina’s face when you want to see the whole production.

  8. I love the contrasts, brilliance of grasses!
    Perhaps one day you would blog a grass species list for
    plant geeks like me.

  9. I was thrilled to read about Federal Twist and find this blog, with all the wonderful images. I’m less a gardener (live in NYC in an apt) than a plant person, with a particular fondness for this time of the year because of the seed pods and capsules, and the distinct shapes you can only see at this time. I love that your garden celebrates these things, have shared it with my children, and hope to come down to see it when next open!

  10. Just stunning! Would love to visit. I think we have a similar aesthetic. Kingwood is a wonderful place and so lovely in the fall. we had an old place in Springfield twp., Bucks Cty., which has a similar feel. Thanks for sharing.

  11. What a wonderfully wild and wonderful place to have created. I for one love the blooms but the textures are just as appealing for me. You have managed to create just the perfect amount of structure with the paths and the pond. Thank you for posting so many images. I could never have my fill of your garden.

    I live in Oregon in the summer and Arizona in the winter so I get the best of all things beautiful. You have managed to capture what I love about my life.

    I read the article in the NYT. I loved the comment about a Maurice Sendak style garden. It was perfect.

    Again, thank you so much.


  12. James,

    Thank you for the images. I discovered your garden through the NYT article. I hope to visit during Open Days – perhaps next year.
    My mother was a Golden from Mississippi and her knowledge of plants came naturally. Her unaffected tastes for cultivation also leaned toward the knarly, the spiky, the fluffy, and she harvested a collection of woody open mouthed pods and seeds. After she died I found them among her things – in apron pockets, wrapped in tissues inside her purses, tucked away in keepsake boxes, kitchen drawers and even nestled beside her best jewelry.

      1. Mama was from the Golden family in Walnut Grove – as well as Daddy. They were distant cousins – Mama’s grandmother was Mattie (Vance) Golden and her husband was James. I have a photo of James Golden and Mattie in front of their house in Walnut Grove that I would be happy to send to you.

  13. It seems to be a rather fashionable thing to say ‘I hate gardening’ …woop tee doo..if you hate it so much why in hell do you bother to do ‘it’ and for that matter why belt us around the ears with it. I hate gardening when i am not in the could say the same for any subject matter we ‘do’ in life! The ‘hate’ periods for me i find to be very productive in many ways and in particular I find the distancing of oneself from the whole gardener interventionist (did I really write that word) process to be often infinitely more creative than many of the ‘love’ gardening phases.
    To do or not to do!
    We kill the things we love?

    1. I like “distancing of oneself from the whole gardener interventionist process.” Did you write that? Ha! I agree. But I defend my “I hate gardening.” Digging a hole in my garden is an exercise in frustration. The lifting of a spade full of wet clay is like lifting lead. Then you hit a rock that, of course, extends beyond the edge of the hole, then you enlarge the hole as wet clay piles up. You dig out that rock, then find another, in another position, and enlarge the hold in another direction. What might be a ten minute process under “normal” conditions turns into an hour-long ordeal. And I hate pulling the invasive Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimenium) every time I walk in the garden. These are just two examples. So I try to get someone else to do it. That’s why I haven’t retired, though you’d think I would have by this time.

      1. Ummm dislike certain aspects of gardening….! I go through periods of not wanting to put my knee on the ground and devise ways to get things done without..BUT when I do drop on the knees I rather enjoy it! I have often thought that because most gardens are created by adults down at child height that adults when visiting a garden should be issued knee pads and asked to move through the garden at that height! It would look wonderfully ‘Pythonesque’ and woiuld make for a fabulous film. Even better if it starred all the ‘stars’ of the English gardening scene..Mr Don et al..what a hoot!!

  14. James, I was so thrilled to see your feature in the Times last week…I’ve read and re-read it several times…really wonderful. I’m even happier to see this post, because I agree that the greatest strength of your garden is in the big picture…again proving that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts 🙂

    1. Thanks, Scott. It’s reassuring to hear from others that they felt a need for more photos “of the garden” rather than those more limited plant portraits. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, though. It was wonderful that Michael Tortorello, the writer, found my garden, spent long hours interviewing me, then more long hours writing the story, and that the New York Times decided to give it such coverage.

    1. How appropriate. If only we all could emulate The Dalai Lama. I suppose we try. I believe that’s what David Cooper says in A Philosophy of Gardens. The act of gardening–in all its aspects–creates a place and the opportunity for us to exercise the qualities of virtue (I paraphrase).

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