Monday, June 22, 2009

Garden Diary: Last Day of Spring

Yesterday was the last day of spring.

This photo, taken shortly after the first day of spring, around the end of March, shows the garden after all the grasses had been burned, leaving a blank slate. Seeing this image from a time in late June, I rather like the minimalist, barren look.

The next photo, taken on June 21, from a similar point of view, shows the change just twelve weeks can bring. One of the characteristics of a mostly grass and herbaceous perennial garden is the empty void of early spring. Another is the almost magical transformation the barren ground undergoes, giving forth a shape-shifting landscape as the plants emerge from the flat plain of earth, some towering to 14 feet by high summer.

Moving out into the garden, some of the theme plants begin to emerge from the blur. Below Filipendula rubra 'Venusta' - certainly the most prominent plant in the garden at this time of the year - appears in a 40-foot drift across the middle of the garden. Glaucous mounds of Rudbeckia maxima foliage add a quirky touch. I think of them as vegetable hippos. This is another theme plant, but it won't make its most important contribution for a few more weeks, when its flower stalks will climb to six or seven feet, each with a single skyward facing yellow daisy.

Moving further to the right, a Miscanthus giganteus is rapidly gaining height in the left background.

Filipendula with Astilbe 'Purple Lance' and narrow, feathery wands of Liatris pyncnostachia in front of the Filipendula ...

Another point of view with the Filipendula, next to a planting of Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster', just coming into bloom ...

Moving to the middle of the garden, looking back toward the house, gives a sense of the scale of the planting. This point is probably about 250 feet from the house, obscured by a screen of London Planes and dogwoods. On the right is another theme plant, Joe Pye Weed, gaining height for its period of bloom in late July.

Turning clockwise, more Joe Pye Weed, Vernonia (planted from broadcast seed), and Miscanthus purpurescens in the foreground, and that single Miscanthus giganteus now on the far right.

A view from the far end of the garden, from behind a bank of bracken, looking back toward the house. This end of the garden has a low profile until later-developing plantings - Silphium terebinthinaceum, more Joe Pye, Rudbeckia maxima, Panicum 'Dallas Blues' and 'Cloud Nine' - gain height. Masses of Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), with silvery foliage in late summer, and white Physostegia virginiana 'Miss Manners', invisible now, are dotted across a ground of pasture grasses, which have the grace to turn a light brown in summer, helping the garden to read as "meadow."

Continuing toward the left, a planting of Miscanthus 'Silberfeder', a hybrid petasites, and more Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) ...

And the same planting from the opposite side ...

After a wet spring and three weeks of almost daily rain, the soil is totally saturated. That these plants can live in such a hostile environment, much less thrive, is amazing ... but also proof that matching plants to existing conditions makes a garden possible just about anywhere on this earth.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Visit to the High Line

Judy, a friend, visited the Highline today. Here are her photos on Picasa. Be sure to choose the slide show option at the upper left.

Gardens Illustrated: Chelsea Flower Show Podcast

Gardens Illustrated editor Juliet Roberts interviews Dan Pearson, Andrew Duff, and Andrew Wilson to get their impressions of the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show in London. This year's show was comparatively low key. Many gardens couldn't get funding because of the economic malaise. Probably just as well. You can listen to the podcast here or download it here.

The Daily Telegraph, which sponsored the Best in Show garden designed by Ulf Nordfjell, reports on the highlights of the show here.

Blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) started to appear all over the garden after trees were felled to let in more light. I've read it prefers well drained soils but tolerates seasonal wetness well. It's also a good self-seeder.

This plant is in a very wet spot but it's certainly competing well with other plants: several weed grasses, dandelion, of course, Equisetum arvense, clover, seedling asters, probably other things I can't identify here. Since its numbers increase every year, I'm assuming it will be around for a while.

As all the different plants in the garden continue to grow and increase in number, I imagine what might be happening underground, where their roots are gradually forming a continuous mat that helps seal the ground surface and

prevents more weedy species from getting a foothold. But more competitive species will always find a place. I'll be hand-pulling golden rod for many years to come, I'm sure. And I wonder if I'll ever vanquish the Japanese stilt grass and pasture grasses that make such messy neighbors.

I think the best I can hope for is a kind of balance, a standoff, where I have a slight advantage because I have eyes to see, a brain to discriminate between the winners and the losers, hands to pull. But I won't be around forever. The plants will eventually prevail and do as they want.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

New York City's High Line Linear Park Opens

After 10 years of struggle, planning, fund raising, design and construction, the High Line - a linear park on an abandoned elevated railroad viaduct in New York City - opens to the public today. WNYC radio reports much concern over how to deal with the crowds expected. Here is a link to a limited, though interesting 360 degree view in today's New York Times. The New York Times article, which is amazingly unsatisfying to me, is here. It does contain a slide show and a short video that give you a feeling for what the new park is like.

WNYC radio has this report and slide show on its blog.

With planting design by Piet Oudolf and landscape design by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, this new park is unique in the U.S. I can't wait to visit, but I think I'll do that after the need for crowd control has passed.

You can see my earlier post on the history of the High Line project here.

I'm sure beautiful photographic spreads are planned for the coming months, but for now, this is the "news."

Photo: New York Times

Friday, June 05, 2009

Garden Diary: What the rain can do

We're had so much rain this spring - gentle, consistent rain over two or three days at a time - that I'm thinking this must be what an English spring is like. The perennials are larger than usual for this time of year. My garden - a wet prairie - develops slowly, starting as almost a blank slate, progressing through a green rubble phase, then gradually developing distinguishable shapes and colors as the large perennials add height. All the rain has accelerated this process. I'm hoping there won't be a down side to this: floppy plants that will get too tall too fast, then fall over. I don't like staking.

The quality of light that comes with this weather is just about perfect for garden viewing. On these cloudy days, some plants literally glow against the dark background of the woods. Filipendula rubra 'Venusta' is especially beautiful with its jagged leaves like shards of bright green that catch what little light there is, working some internal refractory magic, and transmitting it to the eye as a strange chartreuse ... almost radioactive, with the glow of Vaseline glass, given an unearthly radiance by addition of uranium oxide. You can see the Filipendula above and below with Iris versicolor.

The garden's a study in green possibilities this year. Here the big floppy glaucous leaves of Rudbeckia maxima in the foreground contrast (clash?) with the Filipendula. In a few years, the row of Thuya occidentalis behind will make a dark screen to hold the exuberance of the garden planting.

Iris pseudacoris and Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker' below... This image was taken in light rain; note the blue reflecting off the upper surfaces of the Lysimachia foliage. Nestled beside it is a Sanguisorba canadensis, which will take over in late summer when the Lysimachia tends to collapse.

Last year a few Coreopsis grandiflora appeared on a small elevated area the original owners used as a vegetable garden. I leave this uncut to develop as a meadow, cutting it only after the wildflowers have gone to seed. It's working; there are many more Coreopsis this year, and probably other self-seeded rovers to come.

In these two views across from the back of the wet prairie you can just make out the Coreopsis in the far left corner. The large tussock-shaped grasses - mostly Miscanthus - are beginning to add more visual interest and color to the scene. The verticals of Silphium terebinthinaceum and Inula racemosa 'Sonnerspeer' will be visible over the next two months, as will tall Panicum 'Cloud Nine' and 'Dallas Blues'.

Stepping a little further back, a planting of Miscanthus 'Silberfeder', a hybrid Petasites, and Pycnantemum muticum (not yet visible) comes into view. I 'stole' this combination from a photo of an Oehme and Van Sweden design I saw in a book, and I'm very pleased with it so I give them credit. Here, again in the Petasites, is that screaming green of the Filipendula.

Moving around to the opposite end of the garden, the Thuya hedge to be, like the stroke of a pen, contains the wildness. The center area is filled with Filipendula, though the resolution of the photo doesn't clearly show that. Click on the photo to enlarge and you can see it.

In the next view, you can just make out a circle of six red logs (from a fallen walnut tree). This is intended to be a reference, a memorial if you will, in memory of the Lenni Lenape, the native Americans who inhabited this area over the past several thousand years. You can see it better if you enlarge the photo. I wanted this feature to be subtle enough to fade into the background, but I also want it to be visible enough to lead a visitor to ask, "What is this." I have some anecdotal evidence most visitors get the point. The red color also makes a practical focal point.

Next a photo of Angelica archangelica (bought as Angelica gigas; beware labels), which I hope will seed and make a colony. You can also make it out in the photo above.

One final note ... I took these photos in the rain yesterday. Today it's still cloudy but the rain has stopped, and the colors are not nearly as brilliant as yesterday. I've always known gardens look good in the rain. What I didn't realize is that the rain actually changes the quality of light and color

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Iris time

A couple of weekends back, the irises were in bloom. They're a fleeting presence, but the foliage will continue giving into the fall. My first Angelica gigas appears to be thriving, even after a winter of wet and stressful freeze and thaw, and the Persicaria bistorta 'Superbum' is spreading (which I want). We didn't get out to the garden last weekend, so I'm wondering what we'll find this week.

It goes without saying, all these plants are keepers in wet clay.


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