Sunday, January 22, 2006

Complaint Department

Our mass market-oriented nurseries offer gardeners in the U.S. a far more limited choice of plants than our friends in the U.K. I'm looking for sanguisorba tenuifolia Alba - have been, on and off, for several years. Just try a Google search and see how many hits you get in Europe and the U.K. Either I can't find it offered on this continent, or no stock is available.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Garden Plans

I sometimes think garden plans should only be quick sketches - pencil lines and a few abbreviations on a scrap of paper. Once the actual garden-making starts, the plan is subject to change, for change it will. Landscape architecture, with its emphasis on built structures, rather than plantings or plant knowledge, seems to have a big financial impetus to promote elaborate, colorful, detailed plans - and a beautiful garden does not always result. But the plan itself may be pretty, or intriguing. The design drawing takes on a life of its own, and may hinder exploration of new ideas that arise in the process of making the garden. This is especially true when the client is paying many thousands of dollars for a design/build project. I once heard Rick Darke say he never drew a garden plan. He always works directly with the landscape and plants.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Heronswood Nursery's New Catalogue

The new Heronswood catalogue came in today's mail. Glossy paper. Lots of color photos. Accurate, informative, descriptive text. All good in the usual nursery catalogue. But the sense of relationship with a unique person is gone, replaced by the anonymous voice of commerce. I'll miss Dan Hinkley's (or his helpers') wry, humorous stories of plant exploration in far-off parts of the world. The old catalogue left a lot to the reader's imagination. Browsing through it was a joy and a mystery. I'll miss that experience. It was a part of gardening for me.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Planting Design: Gardens in Time and Space by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury

About time for someone to take perennials so seriously they write a manifesto.

I've read all the books by Oudolf, Kingsbury (and occasionally others in changing combination with one or the other). I have to fess up to ordering this book several months before it was published by Timber Press (bless Timber Press for their wonderful selections). I'm a fan of these guys.

At first I found this book off-putting, distubing. It seemed to be trying too hard to make a point - or several points. Now that I've read it three times, I realize it simply contains so much information it's almost bursting out of its covers. Gardening is getting political. If you remember an article by Michael Pollan in the New York Times magazine several years ago, in which he ripped such authors as Ken Druse for promoting "natural gardening," a term which he and others have claimed as virtually meaningless, you know how political it can get.

If Planting the Natural Garden was poetry, this book is, indeed, a manifesto, but it is much more. Its focus is herbaceous perennials, and the art of designing with plants to make gardens, as opposed to landscape architecture, which is usually practiced with minimal use of plants and minimal knowledge of how they grow.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Look Back: Simplifying Plantings

Looking back from this first day of the new year, I'm thinking about changes I would have made to the Rosemont garden if I'd been there another year.

Simplification of the planting would have been at the top of the list. The initial planting was partly an experiment to see what plants would thrive in the rather difficult conditions my little plot of land offered, and what plants could survive deer browsing. Because of our large deer population - they are literally destroying the forests in our area by preventing new growth - selection of plants unpalatable to deer had to be among my top priorities. Ornamental grasses, highly fragrant plants, plants usually found to be deer resistant (see link) made up most of the garden. I did take some risks. Lavatera thuringiaca 'Barnsley', for example, grew into a six-foot shrub, with profuse bloom, in the first year-and-a-half, and though in an exposed position, suffered no deer damage.

Now that I've observed the garden as an outsider, I see more clearly the need to create greater simplicity with larger groupings of similar plants, balanced by sufficient variety to provide interest throughout the seasons. I did plant rather large groupings of Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus' (not the first preference, but the only one available), Filipendula rubra 'Venusta', Eupatorium fistulosum and 'Purple Bush', Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firetail', and Nepeta sibirica 'Souvenir D'Andre Chaudron', which were all quite effective in their season, but fewer species of grasses would have created greater impact and less fussiness at the height of summer.


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