Sunday, July 17, 2011

Garden Diary: twilight with yellow, orange, green, white

Walking through the garden, seeing it in three (four) dimensions, is very different from looking at the photos in this post. The moving plains of plantings, changing perspective, perceived changes in relative sizes make a visit to the garden much more rewarding than two-dimensional photos frozen in time. I invite anyone in the area, or just passing through, to contact me. I welcome your visits and your suggestions. 

Twilight is best time in the garden now. Several hours either side of midday the direct sunlight, heat, and severe contrast between dark, shadowed woods and the bright open garden make walking less than pleasant and photography almost impossible.

The tall yellow tipped verticals -- Silphiums and Rudbeckias -- are mostly in bloom now, and that bright color shows best in the fading light of evening.

Filipendula rubra 'Venusta' (above) is fading from Pepto-Bismol pink to a much more pleasant copper ...

... and along the path the orange daylillies are in bloom. Even in midday, but particularly at sundown, that orange punches through the masses of green and carries the eye to the small, delicate, star-like flowers of the Silphiums (perfoliatum, terebinthinaceum, lacinatum) and Rudbeckia maxima. (Yes, I will have to do something about the color clash with the Astilbe taquetii 'Purple Lance' low down on the right).

The daylilies are particularly suitable to naturalizing in grasses, and I intend to add more on both sides of the path, starting right now. Eight more are going in today. I'm also transplating more of the wild daylilly (Hemerocallis fulva) into the garden (there are plenty on the road in front of the house). I don't particularly care for daylilies as plants. Apart from their bright flowers, their tattered foliage can be a real negative in the garden. By treating them purely as a design element, and planting them where their declining foliage isn't very noticeable, they can be quite useful. I don't try to remember their names. As long as they are orange to red, I don't care.

A mass of red-purple daylilies adds some midsummer interest to the area around Marc Rosenquist's sculpture. More are there, but the camera's not seeing them. These have been around for a couple of years now. I admit they'd be more effective if they were taller, but I'm willing to live with this kind of compromise in the garden.

White too becomes very evocative at twilight and Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana 'Miss Manners') makes the start of a low-level field of brightness that, if planted in profusion, could really light up the dry end of the garden as darkness falls. I've tried to get more but it's hard to find around here. Last time I ordered white, I got pink!

Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum -- how do you pronounce that?) with its hard round buds (above left), Rudbeckia maxima with exaggerated black eyed Susan flowers, more terebinthinaceum, then Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), the large plant blooming behind the Miscanthus.

Sorry there's not much to give a sense of scale. Most of these tall yellows are several feet above my head. (The grey back of the "Wave Hill" chair above does give some visual clue of the comparative scale of a human body.) The garden is about one acre in size.

This shot gives a better idea of how the orange daylilies could become an effective component of the "prairie" planting (I realize Hemerocallis has never been considered a prairie plant) ... call it modified prairie, then.

Eryngium yuccafolium, form emerging from incipient chaos ...

Entrance to the central sitting area, a mass of Mountain mint (Pycnantheum muticum) center right ...

... and a new Redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Hearts of Gold') in the center, a recent replacement for a moribund Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem', which continued to put out elaborate lemony scented flowers, but just looked a wreck. Yes, that's a bunch of Inula racemosa 'Sonnerspeer' that's seeded in beneath it. I'll decide which ones stay next spring.

Above, more self-seeded Inula 'Sonnenspeer' stand sentinel over a planting of Pycnantheum muticum.

View from the other end ...

Rising from a planting of Veronicastrum virginicum is one lone, and persnickety, Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum). I think the garden just doesn't get enough light to make these happy. They always fall over and have to be rescued with long stakes. I hate staking. But since they're self-seeding now, I'll wait and see how the seeded ones develop. If they find the right place, and perhaps are shorter, they may become a useful part of the garden. But if they pass away, so be it. These are too much trouble.

A view across the garden showing Marc's sculpture from the "back" side (back, in this case, means looking generally in the direction of the house).

Speaking of which ... the house, an integral part of this garden. The mostly dead dogwood on the left was cut and removed today.

That's how things go at the garden on Federal Twist Road this July 17th. Have to go. Some neighbors are coming over to see the garden at twilight.


  1. Looking fantastic James..why don't you advertise locally a day opening?

  2. Hi, William - giving something like that some thought.

  3. James,
    The garden looks great. I especially liked the shot of Inula 'Sonnenspeer' with Pycnantheum muticum. I agree with William. Get this garden open to the public. Next time I am in PA, I want to arrange a visit myself. You have an exceptionally beautiful garden. People need to see it.

  4. Thanks, Michael. I have to resist the "but, but, but." Most people who visit say they like it, but I usually see a slight hesitation when visitors first see it. They are so firmly fixed on the traditional lawn and border (an unconscious expectation) they have to stop and "change gears." This garden violates most of the conventions of the typical suburban garden. No lawn, no borders in the conventional sense, no neat edges, an unfamiliar palette of plants. Perhaps that's a good thing.

  5. This garden violates most of the conventions of the typical suburban garden.

    ALL the more reason to get it out! Contact local radio etc..BUT charge a small fee and donate to a local org..get the local primary school onboard..they can man (child) the gate and sell cupcakes or whatever..make it a social and cultural experience! GOGOGO

  6. Push the sustainable thing to get publicity..

  7. I will hazard a guess children will love it..they love mine because i have made many pathways etc small etc..suits their scale! Not often children feel IN scale!

  8. William, thinking along the same lines. The native plant/sustainable approach appeals to a ready-made audience here, and bringing in school kids has been on my mind. Need to quickly finish a couple of narrow internal paths so they can "get lost" in the plants, and prepare some preparatory info on the sustainable/native plant angle, on what a prairie is, the idea of plant succession (prairies turn into forest in the East), etc. Great idea to make it a fund raiser and get school children involved in doing social good.

  9. When I first started reading your blog and pored over the early posts, I could not imagine what you were doing with this swampy depression. No garden, no lawn as you say, and nothing I could recognize as a planted area. When I saw your early arborvitae sticking up out of the mud in a line I thought Huh? But now, with the gravel paths, the sculpture, the seating areas and the wonderful composition of plants, it is spectacular.

    It is a beautiful intentional space. The balance between nature's wild sprawl and your impact shaping it is in perfect tension. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching your vision of this place develop and seeing a fully realized alternative to the lawn + border style!

    (PS, it's hard to tell overall scale in the photos --how big is the area, about an acre?)

  10. Laurrie, thanks so much for your "historical" review. Please come visit if you ever get down this way. A very good point about scale. Yes, the gardened area is about an acre, and most of the tall yellows are several feet above my head (I'm 5'8".) I was concerned that there was no reference for scale in the photos. Perhaps I'll add a verbal one. Thanks much.

  11. What I'm always jealous of is what you can do with masses, like photo 9 up from the bottom, of miscanthus and mountain mint. I know I could have done that too, but I'd have lost variety on my 1500 feet, so I instead did repeats of plants throughout the garden. Someday I'd sure enjoy working with a larger palette, experimenting with masses, rows, waves, colors, and scale in the way you do. Though if I ever visited your garden I'd sure be tempted to rip out those orange daylilies (and yet, somehow, they also seem to work--so it's a good struggle I feel there). And finally, kids in the garden would be icing on the cake. I don't have kids, but the romantic idea I have of them involves tutoring them in the garden, perhaps as they rip through beds and topple compass plant, alas. Get them hooked early, get them thinking beyond themselves while they still do, and maybe it will linger longer into their adult life (I can tell you, it's mostly gone by the time they hit college, hammered out long ago).

  12. Pepto- bismol pink, I know exactly what you mean, it's enough to give you indigestion.

    I guess the seat helps to judge scale/height. I love all the tall stuff, inula, eryngium yuccafolium and so on.

    Do you grow thistle James. I've just bought a packet of Onopordum acanthium, the Scotch thistle. Just not too sure how they would look here. They'd look stunning in your garden, you may not agree.

    I hope you do manage to have an open day/weekend, you've a lot to share.

    Stick with the orange daylilies.

  13. Benjamin, I'm lucky to be able to do a little "little" mass planting, but I don't have room to do an Oudolf kind of thing. It's really a lot of mixed planting, with random (random, but edited into my idea of order) placement (seeds come up where they like conditions). You'll have to take my word the orange daylilies work when you see the physical reality. I just need more of them to complete the idea I've got. I do hope I can get some interest from area schools. It would be good to feel there were some future gardener seeds being planted in their minds. Have to work on a sustainability/native plant pitch.

  14. Rob, I grow teasel (not a thistle, but similar in form and certainly prickly), from seed I collected on the road side. I'd love to grow Onopordum, but I don't know if it would like my conditions. I've always assumed it likes hot, dry places(like yours). I love the plant. Maybe I can find seed. I've never seen the plant for sale around here. Thanks for thumbs up on the daylilies.

  15. Christopher Lloyd used to grow teasel.

    Another packet of seeds I have in my hands as we speak are petalostemon purpureum, nice clover.

    I forgot, here's a link you might like, I clicked 'fotos' button. They are still doing good things in the Netherlands.

    You can get Onoporum here

    They say they post outside Europe.

  16. In the off season, would you do a post with before during and after photos. A timeline for us?

  17. James,
    I would be happy to send some Onopordum acanthium seeds later this summer if you are interested.I think they would look great. If there is a place in your garden to make them happy, they will find it. Did you ever consider growing Cercis 'Forest Pansy'? If you don't dislike red foliage, it might be nice. And yes, get the kids in there!

  18. Rob, thanks for the links. I particularly like the garden link in the Netherlands. I certainly wish I could read Dutch, even if only at a rudimentary level.

  19. Diana, I'll certainly give that timeline post you asked for some thought. It could be interesting if I can select the right photos. Thanks for the suggestion.

  20. Michael, I'd love to get some seed. I'll check your blog to see if I can send you an email with my address. Thanks for the offer. I have a Cercis 'Forest Pansy' (hate the name!) in the front of the house, planted in the gravel driveway area, and it's doing beautifully, still holding its color. I recently planted a Cercis 'Hearts of Gold' in the main back garden to replace a decrepit Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem'.

  21. A very memorable post!
    The effect of flowers and foliage of your taller perennials lit and counterpoised against the dark recesses of the woods around is really extraordinarily beautiful. It seems to me that this emphasizes the extent to which you have responded to the context.

  22. Thank you, Robert. In my previous garden I banished yellow; didn't want that color. But here I recognized the need for the bright stars against the darkness. I imagine stars in outer space shining in the vast blackness of the universe (but not so grand!). That's one reason I like the garden best at twilight, as darkness falls.

  23. As always, your garden just floors me...I'm so jealous of your space! I love how full and vigorous everything seems...the whole garden seems like one enormous, heaving behemouth...the plants its appendages. I was actually walking around my (much smaller) garden around twilight yesterday and was also admiring how lovely all the colors are in that softer light. Flowers that seem almost garish in the bright light of day are so gentle and dreamy in the half-light. If I'm ever in your neck of the woods, I will definitely take you up on the offer of a tour :-)

  24. I'm another of your many fans, James. I love the scale of your Federal Twist garden: you know, looking at these pictures, they aren't enough - a book would do it better justice...but then a book wouldn't be enough, either...I want to visit it in person, be surrounded by it.
    Summer dusk is great time, when the air settles and the plants breathe easier.
    I'm very fond of your Silphium, and would love to grow it. Have a great weekend.

  25. Thanks, Scott. Interesting image: "enormous, heaving behemouth." I do sometimes think of the garden as a kind of organism. It sort of feels like that. You're certainly welcome to visit when you come east.

  26. Faisal, I actually wish I could expand the garden to do something different in other areas. But I'll have to be content with what I have. The book idea interests me, but it would need to be more than a picture book, don't you agree?

  27. Opening the the UK you'd have been sharing it for years. I imagine you have no wider context of garden visiting to link into? Absolutely the time to start one and the garden to start it with.


  28. Anne, I'm thinking about trying to start something with school children (suggested by Billy Martin) and perhaps garden club visits by invitation. But I have to admit the "English garden" still holds sway here. But you're right, we have nothing like your local garden visiting tradition.



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