Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Battery Bosque: a follow-up from the Director of Horticulture

Following up my two posts on the Piet Oudolf's planting design for the Battery Bosque in New York City's Battery Park, Sigrid Gray, Director of Horticulture for the Battery Conservancy, sent me several clarifications about the design intent and maintenance practices at the garden. I had presented the Gardens of Remembrance (GOR) and Bosque Garden as essentially different parts of the same garden. Ms. Gray pointed out that "the Gardens of Remembrance are really not a waterside extension of the Bosque. The GOR, a sun garden, was planted in May 2003. The Bosque, a shade garden, was planted in May 2005. To further separate his first 2 gardens at the Battery, Piet requested a dividing wall, thus the curvy black granite stone wall between them.

Variety and distinct qualities between each project are the standard Piet requires of himself. Species are only repeated when the physical characteristics of the site are similar, even then hybrids often differ."

At the time of my visit in August, the London Planes in the Bosque had lost some of their foliage and the day was windy, even stormy, so the difference in the shade and sun gardens was less apparent. I need to visit the gardens more frequently and under different weather conditions to see these distinctions. Best to do that in the height of summer, when the plantings can more easily be compared.

I had made the obvious point that these, like other Oudolf gardens, look naturalistic but they are far from natural gardens. Ms. Gray explained a little about the maintenance practices required for this kind of garden.

"The gardens, as is typical of Oudolf designs, require a great deal of care because they are formal gardens of naturalistic style, not natural. Points of control are different from more traditional or uniform posing of plants by staking, deadheading, deadleafing. Mood in a naturalistic garden is very dependent on weather effects: the weight of rain, direction of wind, frost, snow, less time goes into counteracting nature and other work such as species-sustaining propagation and seedling selection during weeding becomes key. Species are relocated or removed if the site is hostile rather than forced to stay as per design. For example: Carex muskingumensis, a water-loving sedge, is not tricked with extra watering into remaining where tree root competition [creates] a hostile environment, but moved to a new location in the garden. A minimum of autumn leaves or cut chaff is removed, but excess is removed in some places. The gardens stand during the winter, but mechanical damage is removed if it looks unnatural.

Common wisdom in this type of garden is that it requires fewer gardeners with more knowledge."

Probably in response to my mention of Piet Oudolf alone, and neglecting to credit the many planners, landscape architects, architects, lighting designers and others involved in developing the concepts and designs for the Battery, Ms. Gray concludes by describing the work that has been accomplished and the work remaining to be done.

"Renovations are only 50% complete at Battery. The Battery Conservancy and NYC Parks began rebuilding the park 14 years ago using a 1986 renovation master plan by Philip Winslow. That plan continues to be built. $80 million of work has been completed. The Gardens of Remembrance project and Bosque project were created by a team that included architects, landscape architects, lighting designers, and landscape designer Piet. Projects in development: the Bikeway that will be designed by Quenell Rothschild & Partners landscape architects, architects, lighting designers, and landscape designer Piet; a glass carousel by George Tyspin surrounded by blue gardens funded by Tiffany and designed by Piet; a park playground renovation designed by Frank Gehry with landscape architects, local architects, and landscape designer Piet; main lawn renovation and Oval green (part of Bikeway project) funded by MTA mitigating park damage during 4 years of subway construction; and the Castle Clinton renovation."

If you've visiting New York City or live there, try to get to the Battery. The gardens will have much to offer even during winter. Since the Battery is the main site for viewing the Statue of Liberty and the Harbor, it's probably on most visitors' itineraries.

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