Saturday, October 29, 2011

Is this the end?

Is this the end of autumn?

Yesterday, when I heard snow was coming, I went out to look at the garden in the sunny morning light. Good that I did. When I woke this morning, a heavy, wet snow was falling. It continued all day, and with leaves still on, trees are coming down everywhere, many across roads. The landscape will surely be marked by this early snow storm for years to come.

The energy visible in these plantings is almost electric. Though it was a sad sight to see the flattened garden in this afternoon's dim light, I know next spring will bring it all back.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Progress of autumn

The leaves are falling from the trees, opening the forest to the light for the first time since early spring ...

and revealing the garden in a new space ...

like an island floating toward winter ...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Talking Gardens

Tim Richardson and Noel Kingsbury lead a talk with Dan Pearson, Cleve West, and Andy Sturgeon on the latest Gardens Illustrated podcast. This is GI's annual lecture held at the end of last spring's Chelsea Flower Show (where Cleve West's garden won Best in Show).

I find this discussion fascinating because I've become quite comfortable "translating" the British garden world into the world I know here in America. The conversation ranges from the application of the New Perennials style to small gardens (and whether that can even work ... Dan Pearson makes a case for it), how availability of plants has changed (the selection of shrubs is much more limited and they are harder to find; perennials are far more available), to Cleve West's interest in the so-called Sheffield School of gardening (scientifically selected seed mixes for randomized planting), and Dan Pearson's clear description of the benefits of layered planting (an imitation of natural layering of plants ... starting with trees and shrubs, down to the understory of sun loving and shade tolerant perennials).

We have little offering this richness of subject matter and intellectual stimulation available on our side of the Atlantic. Perhaps, because our country is so large and diverse, it's just not possible for such ideas to make it into the American media, which isn't friendly to garden-related subjects, except in "life style" or "how to" formats. Listen and see what you think.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Contradictions? Not here ... plant and human ecology on the High Line

This simple planting of Birch, Amelanchier, Huechera, and Carex has remained a favorite of mine through many visits to the High Line. It's a good illustration of how a layered planting can work--small trees or shrubs underplanted with a simple, pared-down selection of perennials--a good way to pack a lot of impact into a small space.

Much as I admire this extraordinary community of plants, it is not a natural environment. It is, in fact, a giant planting box embedded in a concrete surface. It bears some comparison to an exhibit in a zoo.

How strange that a naturally evolving  and self-sustaining community of plants on an abandoned railroad trestle could have been the genesis of such a sophisticated, very expensive, and ultimately unsustainable construct as the High Line (unsustainable because it can't continue to exist on its own). This High Line seems almost a contradiction of the original, "natural" High Line.

Don't get me wrong. I admire the High Line as a masterpiece of garden and urban landscape design. But I think we need to call a spade a spade. This is a complex recreational, aesthetic, and perhaps spiritual machine, requiring enormous amounts of money and labor to create and maintain it. Without continuous funding, knowledgeable planting and horticultural expertise, and hordes of maintenance and security forces, it couldn't continue. It is not natural, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you a bill of goods.

But it is a superb example of naturalistic planting, and the horticultural practices that sustain its plant life are derived directly from observation of nature. This simple planting uses small trees and shrubs to create a micro-enrivonment. Within their shade only two perennials--carefully selected for their ability to thrive in understory, rocky conditions, and for their aesthetic qualities--make a beautiful design.

Both Heuchera villosa 'Brownies' and Carex eburnea look great in their rectangular island planting, even now, well into autumn. They are reminders of "Nature" in the big sense, but also of nature on a stage set, displayed with great self-consciousness and much forethought, the better to attract the interest of the human ecology of the High Line ...

... for human ecology is very much what the High Line is about.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Look about ...

Just photos ... from a September 30 morning look about ... a rare sunny day ...

5:07 am

7:09 am - Pontadera cordata in the pond

7:10 am

7:10 am - Sanguisorba canadensis

7:11 am - Spartina pectinata 'Marginata'

7:11 am - Hydrangea quercifolia

7:11 am - Salix koriyanagi 'Rubikins' - these I coppice (cut to the ground) every spring - graceful, light-catching verticals

7:11 am

7:12 am

7:12 am

7:13 am - Lobelia siphilitica

 7:14 am

7:14 am

7:14 am

7:15 am - Aster tartaricus 'Jin Dai'

 7:20 am - Rudbeckia maxima seedpods

 7:21 am - Silphium perfoliatum seed heads

7:21 am

7:21 am - native aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) with Iris pseudacorus

7:22 am - New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

7:22 am

7:22 am

7:22 am

7:22 am

7:25 am

7:28 am

7:29 am - toward the house, Eryngium yuccafolium seed heads in foreground

7:29 am - Molinia caerulea 'Skyracer'

7:30 am


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