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 ...


  1. Even if it's not "natural", your garden certainly get's high marks for feeling very site-appropriate. Idealized naturalism, perhaps. As always, I find your garden sublime...I love the constant change throughout the definitely is a theater of sorts (slow theater)! Enjoy the time you have there :-)

    1. I'm sure you could photograph it as I'd like to see it done, Scott. I do envy your ability to grow so many plants I love, even if you're squeezed for space. I'm constrained by conditions here. Rabbits eat the Astrantias. Even such an easy plant as Echinacea meets instant death in my wet clay. Though I suppose these constraints are a blessing; they define the character of the garden.

  2. It's a wonderland...beautiful. I think if I could decide what heaven would be like it would be a sunny glade like this one. It would definitely have some backlit filipendula.

  3. I definitely recommend backlit filipendula for heaven. It sounds like a pretty boring place.

  4. Oh! Did I miss something? I thought I was looking at heaven in the images above.

  5. Well, when the light's just right and you're viewing it from about a hundred feet away, perhaps then it's as close to heaven as some of use will get.

  6. James,
    I am always amazed at the diversity of textures of the plants in your garden. Definitely entertainment for me.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Michael. I was sitting looking out at the garden in the bright mid-day sun, when I realized that the brilliant light of a midsummer noon creates so many different effects with varying reflectivity, translucence, texture, pattern, that it's akin to looking at some kind of visual entertainment. I was really enjoying it. Because the bright light is horrible for photography, I tend to forget the garden nevertheless can look very good, in fact greatly benefit, from that dazzle.

  7. James I always think part of the charm is that you've created a garden through making a clearing in the woods. There's something special about being surrounded by trees.

    Your garden plays out in an amphitheatre all the way to the autumn finale.

    Are you growing angelica gigas this year?

    1. I agree, Rob. The woods bring a load of memories and emotions to the experience of the garden. I couldn't get angelica gigas this year. The only source I know did not have any available. So I hope for a little reseeding from last year, though no sign of it yet.

  8. I am as always intrigued by the way your garden arises so perfectly from its place. It sounds so simple but it is the great challenge of my gardening life to try to do it here. I have just been lucky enough to have a visit from Anne Wareham who was mentioning your blog to me. Fascinating to see the same question played out over such a distance.



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