Monday, July 25, 2011


Willowwood Arboretum: small garden and edge

I felt like a third thumb.

Not knowing what to expect, but intrigued by a day-long outing to three former grand estates, now part of the Morris County park system in New Jersey, I signed up with the Garden Writers Association for its Region I and II event. Friday was the day. The temperature in New York's Central Park reached 104. It may have only been 102 in Morris County, but it was a killer.

The three former estates we visited -- Willowwood, Bamboo Brook, and the Frelinghuysen Arboretum (to be the subject of another post) -- all offered a mix of formal gardens and informal meadows and woodlands. What I found of most interest were the edges, where the "gardened" gardens merged with the surrounding fields. The entrance road at Willowwood wound through acres of grasses, golden rod, monarda, and milkweed. It was a beautiful site, and I would have liked to stop to explore it, but we were given no time for edgy exploration, only some well orchestrated presentations on the history of the estates, photos of the founders, and tours of the more formal grounds immediately surrounding the historic buildings.

Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center, formerly known as Merchiston Farm and home to Martha Brookes Hutcheson, one of America's first female landscape architects, was particularly stunning with its restoration of the garden's water features, which take advantage of the landscape's dramatic changes in elevation to harvest storm water from the surrounding landscape, collecting it in an Upper Water, from which it flows down a rock lined stream to a large round pool situated in a natural bowl of land.

Restored brook and circular pool designed by Martha Brookes Hutcheson

The pool is treated in an Italinate manner with four symmetrical approach ramps and steps creating two strong visual axes, one of which looks out across a ha-ha to a grassy meadow ... another edge.

There was much talk of axes.

Back home, as I peruse the Willowwood brochure, I see walks are offered in many edgy areas.

So I'm wondering why we were only shown the tame side of things, but not the edges. Perhaps because it costs a ton of money to restore these vast estates, and the staff wants garden writers to write about that. To help the cause. I agree. It is a worthy cause, one not often enough recognized in the good ole USA, so you should click on the links above and go visit these places.

I actually find it quite amazing that a county government (with much private fundraising, I'm sure) operates not one, but three, such estates as part of the public parks system. The Frelinghuysen Arboretum -- perhaps the grandest of the estates, though the least personal -- even has a library with rare florilegia and herbals dating back to the 16th century.

It has edges too. One was a "demonstration" storm water detention basin planted in native plants appropriate to such a wet, sometimes flooded, site. That was one of the highlights of the day, for me, though apparently not of much interest to anyone else.

Can you make a storm water detention basin look pretty? Yes, you can.

 Like I said, a third thumb.

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.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hummingbird Moths

Monarda 'Blaustrumpf' and 'Clair Grace' don't shout for attention, even in the entrance garden, but their nectar brings a frenzied whirl of bees and wasps, and, in great numbers, these Hummingbird moths.

This is a North American genus, Hemaris thysbe. Wikipedia says it is not to be confused with a similar Hummingbird moth prevalent throughout Europe and across Asia to Japan, which is an entirely different genus, Macroglossum stellatarum.

In fact, a local New Jersey web page tells me these photos are not of Hemaris thysbe, but a variant named Hemaris gracilis.

I suppose the point is that my garden seems to be quite wildlife friendly.

The main garden in the back is a haven for the Praying mantis and many other insects. Strangely no mosquitoes, probably because our thousands of frogs (I do not jest) prevent them.

Twice recently I've found the skeletons of small animals--a fox and a rabbit, I think--so there must be predators too. Interesting to speculate what they might be.

Two weeks ago a great black bear was at the front door!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Garden Diary: still green, but not all green

The June hiatus has passed and the wild daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva), which I love even though many despise them, Queen of the Prairie (Filipendula rubra 'Venusta'), Rudbeckia maxima, and Ligularia japonica are bringing a little color into the green, green garden. If you garden in heavy clay, even very wet clay, most of these plants will probably do well for you, but some are quite large! This will be a clockwise walk around the main path.

The broad view across ...

Petasites hybrid with Carex muskingumensis (Palm sedge) in foreground (note Petasites is a highly invasive plant; don't use it unless you know you can keep it under control) ...

... and Darmara peltata (Coltsfoot)--very different leaf shape and surface reflectivity--with the Carex muskingumensis ...

... looking across from an area of Filipendula ulmaria, irises, Silphium perfoliatum (Cup plant), Panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal' ...

...Filipendula rubra 'Venusta' just starting into bloom, Salix alba 'Britzensis', Thuja 'Emrald Green', Pycnanthemum muticum (Mountain Mint), which will take on a silver bloom in two or three weeks ...

... a big Ligularia japonica at the start of the path, looking toward the house ...

... turning toward the woodland garden; shafts of light from the setting sun ...

... Miscanthus giganteus on left, Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker', below, Iris pseudacorus (for a little spring color), Rudbeckia maxima, scattered Filipendula, and in mid-distance, a large Silphium perfoliatum. Last year this was a single stalk. All of these Silphium love the heavy clay. They grew from randomly broadcast seed, and continue to seed around rather prolifically.

The box and Bergenia planting. The dark green of the box has become an important color contrast in the garden and a constant reminder of how many colors green can be.

...  Marc Rosenquist's sculpture peeking out from behind Filipendula, Rudbeckia maxima, and Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerester' (Feather reed grass) ...

... I'm looking back, turning a 360 degree circle ...

... the "dry" end of the garden (planted over the waste water leaching field, so drainage is good here). More Rudbeckia maxima with Silphium terebinthinaceum (Prairie dock), Pycnantheum muticum, Physostegia virginica, Panicum 'Shenandoah'  ...

... looking back again, across the garden ...

Budding Silphium terebinthinaceum ...

... and Eryngium yuccafolium ...

... the large mass of Miscanthus 'Silberfeder' at the back of the garden ...

... and the new sitting area next to it, in the middle of the garden ...

... self-seeded Inula racemosa 'Sonnenspeer' has popped up in the planting of Pycnanthemum muticum ...

... and a final few shots walking across the narrow waist of the garden ...


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