Monday, March 30, 2009

Garden Diary: the Salix and the hedge

The Salix
Willows being water lovers, I'm trying to put them to good use. My three Salix alba 'Britzensis' have been growing for several years, to little effect. If you don't know this willow, you should get acquainted. It's new growth is a brilliant golden orange that can be striking, particularly against a dark background. In direct sunlight, it's a real fireworks plant.

The Hedge
My salix have been making a small show beside a drainage channel. In my crusade to add more structure and winter interest to the garden, I decided to back them with something green, something green throughout the year. Here is the willow without a background. (These photos were taken on cloudy days so the color isn't nearly as brilliant as it can be, but you get the idea.)

And here it is with a background 'starter' hedge of Thuya occidentalis (arborvitae), the only evergreen I can even hope will survive my wet clay.

I intend to coppice these willows (I've already done one, though you can't see it) and to make many more from the cuttings, which root easily. A colony of Salix a. 'Britzensis' will spring up here in a relatively short time. Cutting them will force new growth, which has the best color.

Arborvitae is such an overused shrub in suburbia, one I've learned to dislike rather intensely, that I'm having a hard time seeing this objectively. Now, at this bare time of year, this little set piece is definitely a major feature, too self-conscious, precious, contrived. This will take some getting used to, and time to integrate with the rest of the garden. I know to wait until high summer, when the herbaceous perennials, which are now all dormant underground, will make most of this invisible.

Taking a longer view, I can see the thuya and salix grouping makes an interesting triad with the pond and the new raised stone planting bed. Lots of structural potential here.

A long view from a position more to the right (below) shows even more. I probably need a longer hedge to get better balance with the other parts of the 'triad', and I need something at the far end, where I've been thinking about a separate area of the garden, partially blocked from view, and cutting across laterally, making a kind of 'conceptual' box frame around the central garden. The jury is still out. I remind myself I'm practicing slow gardening; this isn't an instant makeover. Have patience, have patience, I say to myself.

The thuya are in a straight line, but the path behind them and the stone wall are curved. Should I replant the thuya in a matching curve, or leave them as is? The straight line emphasizes the gentle curve of the stone wall behind, an interesting effect that adds a subtle complexity. Still, I have to consider the effect on a stroller on the path. A curved hedge will make it more difficult to see around the curve, making the experience of the garden, from the path, more compelling.

I should return to this post near the end of July, at the height of the season, and consider the options from that perspective.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Felder Rushing: "It ain't no thang"

Felder Rushing's "The Gestalt Gardener" on Mississippi Public Broadcasting is one of the best gardening broadcasts in the U.S. Try out this column on Felder in yesterday's New York Times.

I remember Felder from way back, when he was the state agricultural extension agent in Madison County, Mississippi ... back when my mother religiously renewed my subscription to the local newspaper each year, where I read Felder's column from my perch in Brooklyn.

I was surprised to discover Felder on the radio a couple of years ago and have been listening to his podcasts since. The guy's a great entertainer and certainly an iconoclast in the gardening world of Jackson, Mississippi, where he lives in the "trendy" Fondren neighborhood.

Felder gives people permission to try gardening in any way they want, and he probably does more to attract newcomers to gardening than most. He's easygong, happy, generous with his advice, and really concerned to get people to drop their preconceptions and just give gardening a try, without worrying about what the neighbors think or fretting over a few dead plants.

You can get his weekly podcast from iTunes by searching in Podcasts for The Gestalt Gardener.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Garden Diary: March of progress

I take a risk posting photos of my garden at this time of the year. Will you understand that gardens change continuously throughout the year? Will you view these photos knowing a perennial and grass prairie (a very wet prairie in this case) has to be appreciated for what it is now, even though not a traditional 'vision' of early spring, and viewed with its later season potential held gently in the mind's eye? This is the most barren time of the year, standing water, mud where the soil is disturbed, but all this is natural and appropriate (though a sheet of daffodils is possible, and hoped for, some day; possibly Caltha palustris; in fact, many plants with 'palustris' in their names).

If the top photo looks suspiciously like the one in my March 16 post, look more closely and you'll see the elevated stone planting bed at the end of the pond is nearing completion. Last Saturday while I mowed the remaining perennials, burned the Miscanthus giganteus and cut multiflora rose at the edge of the property, Joel and his father almost finished the stone structure. You can see from a distance it acts as a visual extension of the pond.

But all is not as planned. I tried to avoid the amoeba shape Peter H. criticized. I wanted to get a graceful curve in the stone, but either my communication ability or Joel's skill weren't up to the task. There is a definite S-curve here, but the final product is a rather clunky looking affair. It still needs some refinement, to be done next weekend, when ten cubic yards of "top soil" arrive to fill it and, I hope, leave some to spare.

We have to remove the plants stranded inside the stone walls. Now that the frozen ground has thawed, we'll be able to do that.

This is not what I expected but I'm trying to persuade myself that appropriate plantings will make this all work together as a unified structural feature. I can't afford to redo it.

I'm trying to visualize this in the photo (below) of the same area from last fall. My intent has been to plant a large oakleaf hydrangea to visually join the stone and the pond, and to use some form of evergreen topiary (simple) to create a sense of formality against the wildness of the rest of the garden.

Now I'm thinking more freely of other options. Perhaps a solid ground cover of Bergenia x 'Winterglut'. The red foliage would make a striking sight in winter and complement oranges of a new bank of Salix alba 'Britzensis'. I know the bergenia holds up well through all kinds of weather (I have it on the terrace outside the house, where it's a pleasure to see against the gravel surface). Perhaps a ground cover of bergenia under the topiary ... I'll know better by mid-summer.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gardens Illustrated: Beth Chatto and Penelope Hobhouse

Caroline Beck interviews Beth Chatto and Penelope Hobhouse for Gardens Illustrated magazine as part of their Gardening Heroines series. Click on the links to hear the Chatto interview podcast or the Hobhouse podcast, or download them from iTunes.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Garden Diary: Ugly job, but it must be done

One disadvantage of having a garden of mostly herbaceous perennials is spring. There's no getting around it, as the early spring cleanup progresses, the garden resembles a field of war, especially mine, because I burn most of the grasses. Here is the garden after three weekends of burnings (I can garden only on weekends).

The two arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) are just for thought. I need to add some evergreen structure, and I set these two out in pots just to get a sense of scale and placement. These are actually resting on top of three giant miscanthus (burned to the ground) that I intend to move (they flop and block the path). Arborvitae certainly is not my first choice in evergreens, but it may be the only species that can survive my wet conditions. Even though it's a terribly overused shrub, I do have more respect for it after seeing the Thuja occidentalis forests on Mount Desert Island in Maine a couple of years ago.

To the left of the end of the pond is the start of a new raised planting area built of dry laid stone (see previous post). It looks like a pile of rubble in the photo above. Below you can see it taking shape. It will have a long amoeba-like form, reflecting the shape of the pond. My plan, which is subject to instant change, is to plant a large, spreading oakleaf hydrangea at the end abutting the pond, and use topiary boxwoods along the length to create a formal, structural feature that will contrast with the wildness of the rest of the garden.

Next weekend, if the ground has drained sufficiently, I plan to chop down the remaining plant superstructure with my giant string trimmer (it looks like a lawn mower). I'll leave the chopped remains in place to increase the organic content of my clay soil.

If you look beyond the in-progress stone structure, you'll see more black smudges where I burned other grasses. Yes, this is the dismal season.

(I do intend to work on the spring appearance of the garden. But that will take time, and money.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

More banal spring photos

Okay. I can't stop myself.

At one end of the covered bridge, between Rosemont and Seargeantsville, a derelict bank tangled with vines and undergrowth springs to life with thousands of Eranthis hyemalis early each March. I've watched this with delight for the ten years we've lived in this area. This would make a magnificent site for a garden, with its view of the covered bridge and below it the Wickecheoke Creek.

What is surprising this year is the presence of honey bees, a rare sight even in summer.

But these can't hold a candle to Craig's photos at Ellis Hollow.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Penelope Hobhouse Vista Lecture

Well, not a lecture really ... a question and answer session with Tim Richardson and Noel Kingsbury at the recent Vista get together in London.

I'm apparently one of the few who can find time to listen to podcasts, probably because I drive from the city to the country and back (two hours each way) every week. Ms. Hobhouse talks about how she started gardening, her thoughts on herself as a garden designer vs. a writer, the history of the garden, especially the "Paradise Garden" of the Middle East, and Islamic influences on gardening. Was the European garden tradition directly influenced by Islamic gardening via Sicily? We won't know for sure until Ms. Hobhouse finds time to research and write the definitive book on this subject. But this is one of many topics of discussion I found fascinating.

You can get the podcast via the Gardens Illustrated website here, or for free on iTunes. You can also listen on your computer. For a first-hand report on the evening, go to Noel's Garden Blog.

I'm a podcast fan, but I find there are far too few interesting podcasts on gardening. If you know of good ones, please let me know by leaving a comment.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Grass Days

"It is a rather small garden, so it is amazing the depth
he achieved."- Amalia Robredo on Piet Oudolf's garden.

Before my recent trip to Argentina, I contacted a Uruguayan garden designer, Amalia Robredo, out of the blue, to see if she could help me identify gardens to visit. Though she is Argentinian, Amalia now lives in the area of Punta del Este, an affluent ocean resort area in Uruguay, where she is doing pioneering work in use of native plants to design sustainable, naturalistic gardens. These are large gardens, mainly of 5 hectares and larger. I was a little amazed when she responded to my email with interest and a desire to help, and after a little questioning, even enthusiasm.

The search for gardens to visit in Argentina didn't pan out, but my accidental visit to the Patagonian steppe in San Carlos de Bariloche (see previous post) led to string of emails with Amalia touching on her memories of visiting family in the steppe every summer as she was growing up, the nature of steppe flora, and the challenges of embarking on the practice of naturalistic and sustainable garden design using primarily native plants, particularly in South America where garden culture has been firmly wedded to European, belle epoch models - use of native flora is not widely appreciated there - and to her visits with Noel Kingsbury to Piet Oudolf in the Netherlands and to Hermanshoff in Germany were she met the garden's director Cassian Schmidt and learned of his research on prairies, steppes, and other habitats.

As Amalia explained to me, "I have been using prairies and meadows for the last five years in my designs; they prove to be a strong aesthetic element, sustainable, eco-enriching habitats... I've been researching the native flora along with the University in Montevideo, and doing follow-up on grasses and forbs to see if they have an aesthetic quality that lasts, so they can be introduced into nurseries in order to use them in our designs." Amalia has been helped in this by Noel Kingsbury, who worked with her to develop a more academic approach to plant selection and propagation to support her design work. (I first read of her in his blog.) He also introduced her to Piet Oudolf.

Following is a selection of photographs Amalia took on her October 2007 visit to the Oudolf garden and home. Amalia's photos illustrate Piet Oudolf's use of contrasting formal and naturalistic elements in his garden. "I believe it is important to have something formal or at least something that shows human intervention within wild gardens. They show the intention of that wildness. Piet Oudolf achieved this in a marvelous way in his own garden." Her Oudolf garden photographs show his "theatrical hedges," and his use of "formal shapes within the garden to achieve depth." Amalia also refers to his "use of a carefully selected community of plants for color, texture and seasonal interest" and "repetition of plants to achieve unity of design." This visit took place during the Grass Days in October, when the autumn grasses predominate.

(Please click on the photos to enlarge them.)

Note the play of textures, how Oudolf's now famous "wavy" hedges
"hold the looseness of the design,
" to use Amalia's words.

The garden appears to be contained by the tall hedge. Is the apparent
height of the hedge, compared to the people
in the distance, an illusion?

The large cylindrical hedge in the foreground, and the horizontal
hedges in the distance
contribute tremendous depth to the garden.

In contrast, a sense of intimacy.

Another example of visual manipulation of depth.

Layered vertical planes, foreground and background, the light caught
by the "tails" of persicaria contrasted with almost black hedges behind.

More vertical and horizontal planes. The blurred background of
grasses enhances the structural perennials in the foreground.

Addition of a human being gives a much better sense of scale.

In advising me on how I could achieve a similar effect in my garden, Amalia said, "The thing is to grab the concept: something formal that holds the looseness of the rest of the design, the human intervention vs. the wild planting. It is not about copying the actual design but the concept behind it. What I mean is, instead of a hedge you already are doing stone walls; the concept is the same."

all photos copyright Estudio Amalia Robredo


Related Posts with Thumbnails