Saturday, February 23, 2008

Garden Diary: Using the Landscape as Guide

The Setting
The landscape at Federal Twist is the result of centuries of natural processes as water has drained from higher elevations down to the Lockatong Creek below the house, eroding and refining the landforms left by the advance and retreat of the ice sheet in the most recent glaciation. The landscape also shows the effects of various cultural overlays. The Lenni Lenape lived and hunted in this area for centuries, but left virtually no visible trace, though they certainly left artifacts of their civilization. Eighteenth and nineteenth century farmers cut the virgin forests, cleared stones to make new fields, and built the stone rows that form grids throughout the surrounding woods. Much later, in 1965, a major cultural change was introduced with the construction of what is now our house on an earthen platform elevated above the surrounding land, providing a view across the then open fields to the hills on the far side of the Lockatong valley (now mostly obscured by forest). Over the intervening decades, the house platform has changed drainage patterns, affecting the ecology of the area. By interrupting the flow of water down the natural slope to the creek, and forcing larger flows around each side, the earthen platform has created extremely wet, almost boggy areas at each end of the house, resulting in new ecological niches that will become part of my new garden.

Stone Wall: Imitating Curves in Nature
We have used native stone from old stone rows on the property to make a low, dry laid stone wall around the base of the earthen platform on which the house rests. On the end of the house we just finished building a curved wall that reflects the shape and direction of a small natural drainage channel. You can see how the curve of the wall partially follows and complements the shape of the channel in the photo above.

I plan to excavate a canal-like pond that will appear to flow from, and be fed by, the small drainage channel. The excavated soil will be used to fill in behind the new stone wall. In the next photo, you can see the start of the pond excavation (now interrupted by winter). The green hose, extending back about 40 feet from the water toward the woods, suggests the S curve of the pond, which will carry the curve of both the wall and drainage channel further into the garden (excuse the logs and debris; this is sort of a construction site).

Governing Concept: River Broadening into Delta
As shown in the next photo, taken from the opposite side, the curved wall serves another purpose. Since the main entrance to the garden is via a curved path through the woodland garden, the wall adds a visual momentum, opening the view to the garden as you walk down the path. This curve, in fact, has given this garden transition - from shade to sun, from woodland to open garden - a logic and flow that I didn't anticipate. Think of the narrow mouth of a river (the restricted entry space and wall) as the river rounds a curve and opens into a wide delta (the garden proper). This powerful concept has emerged gradually, as individual pieces of the overall design have fallen into place, and demonstrates, at least to me, the value of a "slow gardening" approach.

The view back to the house from the garden (next photo) shows the straight line of the wall, which will demarcate the wet prairie plantings below the wall, from the drier habitat plantings to be created at its top and extend up the slope.

The garden will develop in harmony with the natural landscape and setting. I have only to learn to read the landscape and interpret symbols left from the past. And, to the extent possible, practice sustainable design, reusing materials and resources from the site.

1 comment:

  1. As an occasional waller I just gotta say well done!



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