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Friday, May 04, 2012

Time to undo

The garden is taking a direction I hadn't intended. Too much gold and yellow, too many plants, too many things. This post could be categorized under "Too much information" but it's my record of progress on the garden so I publish it with some reluctance.

I know very well the city garden is small and simple, in contrast to my country garden, which is large and complex. I understand this and yet I've tried to install plantings in Brooklyn using the same relatively unfettered freedom I've grown used to in the country. This has been a learning experience, so to speak. Time to undo.

Here is the garden a few days ago.


I've made several changes since then. I moved a large tree trunk (from the mulberry that fell in Hurricane Irene last summer) from the back to the graveled area, and I added two pieces of linear argillite near the pool (below). I like the mulberry trunk--had intended to use it as a seat--and the argillite, which suggests waves of moving water, but the garden appears to be getting very crowded.


Yesterday I planted the "dry" fountain basin in front of the Japanese maple with several colored sedums. I like that and I think I can keep it if I simplify the other plantings. But the accumulating plants scattered in pots have become a distracting clutter. There are too many things going on.

This garden must be a simple, contemplative space, a garden of tranquility, a sanctuary. It's clear the simplicity of box woods against the restrained gravel field is key to that.

I have no planting plan for the garden, other than the original concept of four Sunburst honey locusts and a diagonal sweep of box woods across the gravel. In fact, that almost seemed to be enough. So I will return to that original concept and move slowly. I'll look around the nurseries this weekend for ground cover plants--euonymous, ajuga, Meehania cordata (have three already), sweet woodruff, Helleborus, ferns, low green things. Additional points of interest can come later if at all.

I may remove the argillite and tree trunk, probably will have too, but that can wait until I see how a simplified planting scheme changes the garden.

One option would be to retain the linear argillite stones, remove the mulberry trunk, possibly using it as a table in the seating area near the house, and replace the broken slate stepping stones with simple concrete rounds; their simpler lines and material would complement the concrete pool, reducing the visual complexity.


I want to get back to the spirit of this spare, open design.



26 comments:

  1. In the photo, every thing is close to the same scale, and much is the same shape-roundish. One's eye doesn't rest, or settle, but hip hops around. When things are planted and grow in(the honey locusts), this will look better, but right now it's distracting. The wall is a splendid color and I envy you the pool, but you can only put so much in a small garden. Do you even need stepping stones? If so, I'd make them a complete pattern, not an accent but a grid or something.

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    1. I agree you can only put so much in a small garden. My desire to simplify is even stronger now than when I posted this this morning. Thanks for taking interest and letting me know your thoughts. I think I do need the stepping stones--in some form--for what they do visually as well as for practical reasons. But the argillite stones and tree trunk certainly are not essential.

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  2. PS. Of course you don't get to see photos of the mess my garden is in....

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  3. James,
    Now is the time to be clear about your intention for the space. Whatever attains your intention, stays. Whatever is contrary to your intention must go. Restraint is what is needed now. Good luck. You are doing a great job.

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    1. Good advice, Michael. My intention has been clear to me from the start, but my obsession with plants gained the upper hand for a few days. Fortunately, I can use all of these in the Federal Twist garden. I also have a hard time waiting; I want it all done now. Must remind myself I'm not doing a Chelsea garden to a specific brief and a deadline. I'll practice slow gardening. Repeat 100 times, slow gardening, slow gardening ...

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  4. This is turning into such a great sequence of posts -- watching this garden take shape has been a treat and the fact that you are willing to reveal to us your missteps is honestly even more helpful than just showing us perfection all the time. I love how, when you feel you make a mistake or are trying to work something out(whether it's paint color, stepping stone placement, plants, etc.) you explain your whole thinking process.

    I've always thought that mastering an artform is far less difficult than being able to *teach* that artform. I think it requires a sort of humility and reflectiveness that many artists do not have.

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    1. Thank you for that, Mary. I have always tried to use a few photos of things gone wrong. Probably because I always seem to learn more from my mistakes than from successes (at least, the ones that come easy). I just got back from scouting local nurseries. I didn't allow myself to buy a thing. I'll continue looking tomorrow, and make purchases only after enforced delay and thoughtful consideration. Have you ever tried to find plain green euonymous? You can't. They only sell gold and white variegated forms. Same with Hydrangea arborescens. I want the plain species with the little flowers, but only 'Incrediball' is for sale. So much for simplicity.

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  5. When I planned the 'Japanese' garden for the last house it looked wonderful on paper. But gardens and plants change. Never was able to make happen the magic I had on paper. It is quite fascinating to walk this road with you. I vote for the argillite, but then I love rocks!

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    1. Diana, I did worse. I had it close to success, then mucked it up. I like the argillite too, very much, but if it doesn't fit, it will have to go. Nice stone. It rings when hit with another stone or hammer. The 'old timer' name is Blue Jingle and Blue Jingler.

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  6. Sometimes several steps back is many steps forward!
    Best
    R

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  7. Robert, I think you have a gift for aphorism. Or is that an old Chinese proverb?

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  8. Yes, James, I feel you're right, that's all got too complicated...but then you don't find that out till you've done it, and in doing it, you work out what to cut. Less is more. Sometimes I have the idea of building a garden using only 3 or 5 species - the extreme limitation could be extremely beautiful, extremely expressive. Nice to be kept informed of your doings!

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    1. Thanks, Faisal. I like the idea of limiting the number of species. Hard to do!

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  9. This is not modest of me, but I wanted to remind you of what water and space can do, to encourage. I'd be inclined to say you still may be doing too much?

    http://veddw.com/south-garden-pool-hedges/

    Keep at it - this is what garden making is. You'll know when you have it right - your heart will lift when you come to it after being away.

    XXXX

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    1. Anne, I took a look. It's become a scene I'm familiar with (through photos). I do see what you mean when you say I may still be doing too much? I think this garden will take a while for me to work through my personal obsessions.

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    2. You have less excuse than most, James, with that other great big garden you have!!

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  10. Thanks for sharing your design thoughts with us. You are inspiring my garden designs.

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    1. Benefit from my errors. Thanks for commenting.

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  11. Jim - It's so interesting to be privy to your design process. It's so different for each of us. You are doing what all design students and practitioners are taught to do (although some never thoroughly learn this lesson), which is to go back and take a look at the original plan or intent. There was obviously something driving you to make the initial plan and you are reacquainting yourself with that initial feeling.

    Personally, I like the argilite stones and agree with you that you should move the trunk to the terrace space and use it as a table. I might even remove the slate stepping stones altogether to reduce break up of the pebble "floor". I share your angst when it comes to editing plants, however, but I suppose it must be done.

    I feel rather cheeky making suggestions about anyone's garden design on blogs, but I'm curious to know if others think my suggestions are just totally off the mark, batty or both! At any rate, I know that you will take it all with a grain of salt.

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    1. Michael, I believe I'll follow the suggestion to remove the truck to the sitting area, and move out the stepping stones to take a look at the garden without that distraction. I got yews for the back this weekend and in only five or six (!) years I may find out whether they work. Next week, I bring lots of the plants to Federal Twist just to get a clearer vision of the garden with less clutter. I think visiting Ragnar and David's garden was bad for my plantaholic tendencies. Too much excitement.

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  12. No advice, just that I'm loving the contradiction between your gardeners, and watching / hearing you struggle with it. I tried to have my side garden me "simple" and that eventually just meant no perennials and lots of shrubs. Too many shrubs.

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    1. It's quite a change, but I think I have a clear intention. I've learned discipline is good for me. Will this discipline yield success? The big question. Maybe I'll know next year.

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  13. It's fatal to drift through the nurseries, be intrigued by a plant and bring it home. Have a strategy and stick to it !!
    Mind you I have done the gradual development myself for many years. But no more. Mindyou I was never a 'plantsman'. I am a 'landscape' fan.
    Your Brooklyn garden is one which needs a strategy the most.
    I am really enjoying these posts of the journey. It's very interesting debate.

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    1. I visited the garden of friends recently. It's kind of like a curiosity shop of gardens, full of detail and unusual plants. Sort of a cottage garden cum grotto cum modernist garden. Then I visited a little nursery in Brooklyn crammed full of unusual plants. I got carried away, so now I'm clearing the deck, pulling things out, pairing back to essentials.

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  14. Make a plant list and then halve it. It actually looks 'busier' to me as most of the plants are still in their pots. That may sound a little glib but I reckon things will change again when they're in the ground.

    I like the sedum fountain.

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  15. Halve it? Maybe pick two to four plants if I had the discipline. I'm purchasing yew for a hedge right now. A short hedge.

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