Nothing gold can stay

The first weeks of May. Cool air, sweet scent of the weedy Russian olive, the chatter of bird’s making their high pitched insect sounds so strange the tree frogs at night sound more like birds, the golden lace of just emerging foliage glowing in the golden afternoon, the dark slowly coming on. Time to stop after a long day of planting. The feeling of the moment is enough to overlook parts of the garden still undone, that still exist only in my mind. The bank of Hydrangea arborescens I had planned for that hillside, the Darmera tubers that won’t emerge for another two or three weeks, maybe not at all this season. It’s all an intermingling, an effect, an atmosphere, a mood, detail merging into the whole, unfinished parts into general process, as I move from one part of the garden to another. 

In the woodland garden the raised stone planters (above) integrate with the landscape now that they’re partly planted and ground level plants have risen up. Behind you can see that trees toppled in the hurricane have opened the forest to light. It’s quite gold nearing the end of day. The gold will fade to briefer moments as the trees fully leaf out with green. I can’t even guess how much of the new light will remain through summer. 

Golden groundsel (Senecio aureus) seeds easily. It’s color is brief but welcome in these early days. I want to fill the ground with a carpet of plants that ask for close-up views …


… recalling something like Durer’s Large Piece of Turf …


 … welcoming close observation, offering sharp definition of shape, texture, form.


This time is so unlike morning and mid-day, when plants and objects are back lit, silhouetted by light, when detail is lost. Now as the sun drops below the tree line, long shadows creep over the landscape adding another layer of complexity to the garden.

Walking further into the garden, looking back …



… then forward to the tall trees and the sky, entering the open garden. With the open blue above, this gardened glade in the woods is like a giant eyeball aimed skyward. In morning, or as night comes on, it can feel like a holy place–and at times a place of terror, as if this could be a jumping off point into the universe, into the unknown.

These tall trees at the edge of the garden create a refuge at their base, a place to sit on upended logs and look into the woods.


In this space, this unsettling void, any detail catches your attention. These unfurling Royal Ferns under the tall trees …


… show darkness coming on, light side and dark side, with darkness gaining with each passing minute.

From a vantage point, another refuge,  in another far corner–linger and look across another part of the garden, later to be hidden by ever taller hydrangeas, a screen of Inula and rising bracken fronds, mounds of grasses yet to emerge …


… looking across to the house and the area of the new reflecting pool, all still viewed through a veil of light. I’m pleased the pool and its gravel paving is almost invisible.


If you look, attractions, diversions, dot the still open field of garden–the gold of one of many Euphorbia palustris, with more each year as self-seeding adds to their number.


And Geranium maculatum, native here. It moves around but there’s quite a crop each year.


Here is the new reflecting pool surrounded by new plantings, almost finished now. About seven weeks to settle in and grow before the garden Garden Conservancy tour on June 29.


Some of the plants were moved from other parts of the garden, others sourced at almost mature size. I hope these will grow quickly but I know real maturity and intricacy will take three seasons. So I ask for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.


Nothing gold can stay, Frost said, but these days in the garden offer proof that something else will take its place. Greening and growth. Increasing complexity as plant communities create themselves in a simulacrum of nature, a gardened nature. Not Eden certainly, but as close as we ever get. As the sun runs across the sky, early morning gold to white to gold again, we labor at the garden, making what isn’t natural appear to be.



Considering the title of this post, you probably anticipated this poem by Robert Frost.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.



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17 thoughts on “Nothing gold can stay

  1. Spring growth is so fresh looking, so vibrant. I know you were saddened by the damage the hurricane did but it will be interesting to see how the increased light affects the garden and the lighting. If you want tiny plants wanting closer inspection you could consider Anemones

  2. I agree with Diana (above), I wish I were one of the group that will visit next month. Your garden is so different to mine and yet our aims are very similar. Much new foliage here is red or pink to protect it from the sun’s harsh rays, but the same feeling of NEWNESS is pressent.

  3. Fabulous post James. I love seeing your garden as nature’s green golds emerge. It’s a delight to see your garden this time of year. The reflecting pool is a wonderful asset and the new plantings around it will be a fine presence by the end of June. Your entire garden looks as if it’s been there for a long time. Impressive. When I lost numerous trees to the ice storm Michael Gordan said to me to think of it not as loss but as opportunity and new light. At first I couldn’t see that. But now I hardly remember what I lost and I love how it changed the garden for me in ways I would never have imagined. The light in your garden is magical. I often wish this time of gold could last longer, but then I suppose it wouldn’t be as special.

    1. Good to hear from you, Maude. Like you, I was very disturbed when the trees first fell. I’m still getting used to all the new light, and I look forward to seeing how it changes the garden on the south side. I expect I’ll still be discovering that for at least a couple of years. Now that I have that new “crease” between the new pool area and the rock surrounded planting area, I think I want to fill it with Carex muskingumensis. Wish I knew where I could find 20 or 30 plants quickly.

  4. James, the reds of the Acers are an effective contrast with the new flush of chartreuse foliage. You are right, like many things in the garden, it is fleeting. There is always a lot of optimism in the garden this time of year–and a lot of work to be done.

    1. Michael, mixed optimism and pessimism. I lost so many plants to voles, I’d anxious about the late risers. It appears much of my Joy Pye Weed may be damaged or gone. But I know, you will say this is an opportunity. It is, it is.

  5. I really enjoy the balance between close/mid/long distance views in your garden. It works so well, I get the sense of an invitation to both walk and to stay and study closely individual plants.
    How tough is Golden Groundsel? Would it behave in a zone 5, clay soil with lots of dry shade?

    1. Thanks. I try to get photos that show the big picture. You can’t tell much from close-ups. Golden groundsel is very tough, expands quickly, and self-seeds with glee. However, mine grows in very wet clay. I don’t know if it’s suited to dry shade. I haven’t looked it up in a reference, but my intuition and my experience say it wants wet or at least moist conditions.

  6. So much anticipation.

    James you’re lucky to have a wooded area, it’ll be interesting to see how things are once the canopy opens out. I wonder if it’ll become your favourite part of the garden – if there is such a thing as a favourite part. I’m sure it’ll be a cool retreat on hot, humid evenings. I guess our sensory apparatus improves in woodlands. It’s the acoustics for one.

    I love the raised stone planting areas, oh and your photos.


    1. Thanks, Rob. You’ve mentioned the acoustics in woodland before, which tells me you’re really in touch with the world in an important, and often overlooked, way. There is an invisible, acoustic landscape in every garden. Please continue to give me such insights.

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