Saturday, June 23, 2012

Not Nature, an Entertainment

The Federal Twist garden is a man-made glade in the woods - we cut down many trees to make it - hemmed in on all sides by tall trees. It looks appropriate to the place, as a glade looks appropriate in a forest. With much rain and sun this season, the plants have grown rapidly. Now that we've passed the first day of summer, the eye can wander across mutable, seemingly endless patterns, an artificial landscape of daily changing topography as mounding plants mound higher and the tall, spiky ones grow into towers. This is pleasurable, an entertainment.

Though I call the garden naturalistic in style, it is not nature. It's an entirely artificial creation, a metaphor (or metaphors). Hard to see that, I admit, because the materials that make up this artifice are living plants.

It's a quiet theater of a sort. Looking out from the raised position of the house, the garden plants are on display, light pouring in from the sky above, plants much like actors playing their garden roles, rising and falling, living and dying, catching words of light and throwing them into your eyes, words like tones, like music, more than language.

High view over garden
The garden exists by visual differentiation from the surrounding woods, and that difference arises from several causes, some so obvious they hardly bear mention ...

Petasites, Darmera, Carex muskingumensis around the pond create their own topography
 ... open space, plants unlike those in the forest, intentional juxtaposition of contrasting shapes and structures, sweeps of massed plants forming fields of texture, washes of color, creating a new topography of continual change, and plants growing in clumps and individually, creating patterns, a contrived order that doesn't exist in the forest.

I walk about the house, catching a glimpse here, there. I'm grateful to be able to live in this place for a while (nothing's forever I know). The Filipendula ulmaria, in a 30 foot clump near the pond, have been white-topped for three weeks now. When backlit by morning sun, the Filipendula rubra, an even larger mass, become translucent like some miraculous wrought jewelery, turning feathery pink at top, above a setting of angular, upward pointed leaves resembling chartreuse shards of glass.

Filipendula ulmaria massed by the pond

Filipendula rubra with its angular, translucent foliage and pink flowers just coming into bloom

It's been frustrating to find a way to photograph the fine detail, textures, color variations that make the garden. I can see it, but it's impossible to photograph. Thursday, as sunset faded into twilight, I used a tripod and small aperture lens setting on a quick walk around. The increased depth of field and longer exposure better captures the real view, though any photographer will tell you it's never the same.

Details, details ... glaucous, big-leaved Rudbeckia maxima, like awkward characters on a stage ...

The red circle of walnut logs in the meadow area have their own role to play ...

Waves of flowering in the meadow, with a predetermined end - to be cut at end of summer after seeding ...

Entry to the woodland garden

A glance back across the open glade ...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Planting Brooklyn - an Exercise in Layering

Plants for shade on the left, plants for sun on the right. Trying to keep the two different communities in balance visually is the challenge. In such a small space, the idea is to plant with enough variety to give interest through all seasons while maintaining a unified, cohesive design--an impression of simplicity, a feeling of tranquility. One key to planting in such a garden is layering--planting at low, medium, and higher levels to completely cover the ground, and create interest in limited space.

Too many evergreen balls? Those yews at back will eventually form a linear hedge, and the ball effect should disappear.
The shade side is much more fully planted, though a close look shows plenty of room for more use of layering. That requires careful selection of plants with similar cultural requirements, and with complementary shapes, colors, and textures. I think I'm well along on the road to success, but I won't really know until next year when I can see how the vegetation is spreading and knitting together. Editing and changes in placement will be inevitable.

I've been gathering plants for the sunny side for a couple of weeks. The sun is intense on this side, so I'm using plants that I know can endure the stress, mainly grasses and sedums, with a mixture of other durable perennials I like--Pycnantheum muticum (mountain mint), bronze fennel, sedum 'Autumn Joy' (for color and texture, but mostly great structure through winter) and Vera Jamison, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (blue flowers, red autumn color, and a creeping, drooping habit), the Japanese rice paper plant Tetrapanax 'Steroidal giant' (to give height and big, bold foliage, should it survive our winters), and under it Rodgersia podophylla 'Braunlab', one of the rodgersias with a wider, more geometric leaf shape. This combination will only work if the Tetrapanax grows tall and the Rodgersia mounds below it and, even then, the two strong foliage forms may clash.

I've also used some small grasses--Sporobolis heterolepis and Pennisetum 'Hameln' as well as one tall grass that's proven of great value in the Federal Twist garden, Panicum 'Cloud Nine', which develops a delicate, airy cloud of flowers in late fall that belies its strength and durability. It also colors a beautiful yellow.

Many of these plants also act as ground covers, thus obviating need for layering, but you can see from the open ground there's lots of opportunity for layering  in other areas and I need to find compatible plants for that. One I've used is a dark, almost black, Ajuga 'Black Scallop'. I'll continue my regular visits to local nurseries to find others.

My major reservation about this planting is its bluish cast, especially compared to the intense greens on the shade side, which are dramatic and sculptural against the dark wall of fencing, and its whispy, insubstantial forms. But I'll live with this for a while before making a final decision on possible changes.

Below, the view from the back. Excuse the clutter, but this is a garden-in-progress. That small stone this side of the pool has been removed, and I'm considering using larger stones at the far end of the pool. These shapes are almost ideal to my eye but I think bigger might be better. I've also speculated whether I could add a couple of Darmera peltata on the sunny side (left) as a "linking" plant. Can it take the heat?

The planting of sedum and hens and chicks. Other great plants for layering, though used alone here.

To finish, some examples of layering, up close ...

Because space is tight, small plants dominate. I'm a lover of giant plants, so this new garden requires a major shift in design approach for me. I've been surprised how easy it's been.

The prize for small plants without a doubt goes to Cornus canadensis in the middle of the photo below.

This plant, known for being difficult to establish, languished in small pots for weeks in my garden, drying out several times, but sprang to life as soon as I put it in soil. I find its leaf veining and tiered structure delightful ...

... so I'm off to Paxson Hill Farm this weekend to see if they have any left.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Contemplative Garden

Summer's coming on like a rising wave ...


Related Posts with Thumbnails