An article on Federal Twist is in the September Gardens Illustrated. This issue won’t reach the US until sometime near the end of September. So here, forthwith, a scan, which I realize may be difficult to read (click images to enlarge them, click again to enlarge more).
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.
Well, that’s what Noel said. It seemed to ring true. Everyone was lively and happy and interested.
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.
Musing over the photos of last year’s garden, I realize I lost most of the late winter and spring. Constructing the new reflecting pool and surrounding area, then replanting the construction site took most of my attention and made a mess of the garden. Apart from the winter interest provided by an ice storm in early January, the 2013 garden year didn’t really start until well into May.
An ice-coated garden
“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.
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.
The frogs have even taken up residence in the new pool.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An event to get to, Noel Kingsbury speaking at Chanticleer, so I arrived late afternoon of October 24 to see the garden in approaching twilight. I usually feel the need to make the trek around the entire garden, but time being short, I chose just to see what I wanted and let it go at that.
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.
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.
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