Archive for January 2010

Ornament in the Garden

January 31, 2010

“Nor am I displeased with the placing of ridiculous Statues in Gardens, provided they have nothing in them obscene.”

– Leon Battista degli Alberti, De Re Aedificatoria (1485)

ornament in the garden

Simon hanging out in the coreopsis.

In winter, the garden can look lonely. Perennials have been cut to the ground, deciduous shrubs are bare, trees may be leafless. Evergreens take on added importance, as do plants with interesting bark or winter berries. The structure of the garden can be seen more clearly and arresting shapes or patterns can make or break the visual scene before us.

Gardeners who have indulged themselves by adding art or ornaments to their landscapes will reap an added bonus at this time of year. Art in the landscape can be challenging to integrate successfully: a large sculpture may require careful placement and sensitive planting plans to ensure that it shines without competely dominating the scene. Garden ornaments, however – structures for climbing plants, or smaller pieces of statuary, or arbors, or birdbaths –  can find smaller niches more easily and bring a touch of whimsy to the garden in season, while serving as focal points when winter arises.

Take Simon (above), for example. While on a garden tour in south central England in June 2001, I came across him in a small garden store in the Cotswolds, towards the end of my trip, and knew immediately that he belonged somewhere in my garden at home. After dragging him back across the Atlantic in one of my suitcases, I found the perfect spot for him among a small drift of coreopsis, whose airy lightness sets off his small but stony bulk perfectly. He can bring a smile to my face when I’m weeding.

I’ve seen Simon’s relations in many other gardens I’ve visited, both public and private:

— a heron sculpture peeking out unexpectedly from a stand of grasses in a client’s garden;

ornament in the garden

The "hidden heron" at a former client's garden.

— a plastic T-rex figure nestled in the crotch of a paperbark maple tree at Chanticleer Garden;

ornament in the garden

T-Rex at Chanticleer, minus part of his tail, looks perfect in the paperbark maple tree.

— a miniature fairy figure carefully placed in a stand of groundcover plantings in the woodlands at Mt. Cuba, which I had the pleasure of touring several summers back (“Oh yes,” said the guide, “you’ll find these treasures hidden in every garden.”)

oranment in the garden; Mt. Cuba

A fairy hides on the grounds of Mt. Cuba

So between now and spring, as you’re dreaming of next year’s garden, give some thought to adding an ornament or two of your own. You won’t regret it.

Inspiration at the Arboretum

January 28, 2010

Years ago, when I started studying landscape design, I spent three hours every Friday morning for a year traipsing around the National Arboretum (and other places) learning about trees and shrubs. One chilly winter morning, my class was following our teacher down a winding road headed to a destination that now escapes me when we rounded a corner and there, in front of us, was a plant that stopped me in my tracks.  It was Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena,’ a hybrid witchhazel that sports fantastic orange, strap-like flowers in winter.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena', National Arboretum

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena' at the National Arboretum stopped me in my tracks.

When I took this photo, I was still shooting film and using a point-and-shoot camera. It’s not a great photo (too dark, even though I’ve worked on it in Photoshop), but when I got it back from Moto Photo, it entranced me and took me back to that overcast Friday morning. Later, when I scanned it, it became one of the very first images in the plant photo database that I now use in my design work, showing clients the plants I propose to include in their gardens. Since then, I’ve photographed witchhazels (‘Arnold’s Promise’ is another favorite) in other gardens, but ‘Jelena’ remains first in my heart and the photographer it helped to inspire is very grateful.

Hamamelis x 'Jelena', Brookside Gardens

Witchhazel's strap-like blossoms appear in the winter when there is otherwise little color in the landscape.

Last Stop: Stonecrop

January 24, 2010

Stonecrop Gardens was another of my destinations in the Great Garden Quest vacation in 2004 in the general area of the Hudson River Valley. August proved a good time to visit the gardens, which are located at an elevation of 1100 feet in the Hudson Highlands; it was cool and sunny, with crisp air. Stonecrop is open to the public except during late fall and winter, and at the time I visited you had to make an appointment to see it, although that is not the case any more.

(To see a larger version of any photo, simply click on the image.)

Created by Frank and Ann Cabot, Stonecrop Gardens is the “home garden” (formerly that of the Cabots themselves) of The Garden Conservancy and a fascinating public garden in its own right. Its 63 acres include over 500 species of Alpine plants; a 2000 square foot Conservatory, whose visually arresting appearance is the first sight to greet visitors who find their way there (not an easy task, as Stonecrop is somewhat off the beaten track); an English-style cottage garden with a central vegetable garden parterre; a large woodland garden; a Pond Garden complete with an enormous stand of Gunnera manicata (native to Brazil) which the garden staff takes great care to protect by mulching heavily each year before the onset of winter; and a collection of perennials as diverse as in any other public garden in the state. Don’t miss the Lake and Hillside Gardens, with cascading water leading down to a large man-made pool flanked by a grove of dawn redwood trees and weeping Katsura, and the Wisteria Pavilion.

Stonecrop Gardens is located in Cold Spring, NY and is open to the public Monday through Friday and the first and third Saturday of the month, from April to December. Internships are available at Stonecrop each year for individuals interested in a career in horticulture.

See the other Hudson River Valley posts:
Wave Hill
Opus 40

Going to Innisfree

January 21, 2010

The Hudson River Valley gardens saga continues . . . (if you’re bored, please let me know. On second thought, better not. I still have one post to go.)

As a child of the 60’s, one of my favorite songs was “Innisfree,” as sung by Judy Collins. It still is. So when I became a gardener, and learned that there was a famous garden in Millbrook, New York, by that name I had to add it to my Hudson River Vally garden itinerary.

Innisfree, Hudson River Valley gardens

The 40-acre lake at Innisfree is glacial. The views, however, are anything but.

From 1930 to 1960, Innisfree was the private garden of Walter and Marion Beck. With the help of landscape architect Lester Collins, the Becks used Chinese garden design techniques to guide the development of the garden. Drawing on the history of Chinese paintings and gardens dating back a thousand years, Walter Beck devised the term “cup garden” to describe the concept behind Innisfree: that of a garden area or vignette that draws attention to something rare or beautiful by setting it within an enclosed or discrete space, to enable to viewer to enjoy it without distraction. A cup garden can be a meadow framed by trees, a lotus pool, or a single rock covered with lichens and sedums. Thus, there has been no attempt to relate any of the planting design, for example, to the stone remnants of the foundation of the original house which are still on site.

Innisfree, Hudson River Valley gardens

Berberis 'Helmond Pillar' and sedums provide dark red contrasts to the chartreuse and green plantings in this terrace area at Innisfree.

Innisfree, Hudson River Valley gardens

One of the many garden terraces at Innisfree

A mist fountain on an upper terrace, near fastigiate Gingkos

At Innisfree, I strolled through a series of carefully framed views, seeing terrace gardens, a meadow stream, carefully placed massive stones (most of which came from the forested areas on the site), and a series of waterfalls, mist fountains, water sculptures, and pools. The garden is 150 acres in all, including a 40-acre glacial lake. Most of the plantings, however, are native.

Innisfree, located in Millbrook, NY, is open from May 7 to October 20 Wednesdays through Sundays and on legal holidays. For more information, visit its website.

See the other Hudson River Valley posts:

Wave Hill
Opus 40
Stonecrop Gardens

A Magnum Opus

January 18, 2010

Opus 40

Opus 40 was constructed completely by hand, using blasting powder and hand tools.

Another stop on my Hudson River Valley trip in 2004 was Opus 40, in Saugerties NY, near Woodstock. Technically I suppose you could argue this isn’t a “garden,” but I had read enough about it on the Internet while I was researching my trip that I was very intrigued and wanted to check it out.

I am directionally challenged at the best of times, and this was long before I become joined at the hip with my Garmin Nuvi GPS. I won’t bore you with how many times I got lost en route to this location, but my journey was capped off with discovering on my arrival that the weekday in question was one when the site is usually closed to the public. The powers that be, however, succumbed to my pleas since there was already a painting class working on site. I hastily paid my five dollars admission fee and started exploring, mouth wide open and D100 (no tripod) in hand.

Opus 40 is one of the most unusual created landscapes in the Eastern United States. Its creator, Harvey Fite (head of the Fine Arts Division at Bard College from its inception until his retirement in 1969), spent 37 years fashioning a series of ramps, steps, pools and terraces constructed from stone from a quarry on the site, capped with a nine-ton monolith. Opus 40 was built completely by hand, using only blasting powder and hand tools; no mortar or cement was used.

Opus 40

Changes in the light produce subtle shifts in the way the stone looks. Planting wells still contain a few trees and shrubs, although many have died. Here, the "garden" is almost purely hardscape with trees for a backdrop.

Some of the ramps have planting wells that contain trees, although a number of these ‘beds’ are now empty, the trees having failed to survive. Some of Fite’s sculptures surround the periphery of the site, although the central structure is by far the most powerfully affecting component of the site. The colors of the stone shift subtly as the light changes, and the effect is arresting.

Opus 40

The nine-ton monolith is the central feature of Opus 40.

Opus 40 is located in Saugerties, New York, near Woodstock. It is open on weekends and holiday Mondays. For directions, details on its hours and admission information, visit its website. If you’re going to be in the area, it’s worth a detour.

See the other Hudson River Valley posts:
Wave Hill
Stonecrop Gardens

Catching The Wave

January 14, 2010

About five years ago, I took a busman’s holiday in August while my sons were out hiking with their father in Kauai. My own garden looked dreadful – typical for Washington in late summer.

Wanting to explore some gardens in the Hudson River Valley, which I’d never visited before, I constructed a driving itinerary that started in Hyde Park, NY and included stops at Opus 40, Stonecrop Gardens, Innisfree Garden, and Wave Hill Garden. The other day, my friend Lori asked me if I’d ever visited Wave Hill, and I remembered this trip so I decided to re-visit my photos from that little odyssey, starting with my last stop, in the Bronx.


(Click on each photo for larger version)

Perched on a hill overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades, Wave Hill consists of 28 acres of gardens, greenhouses and woodlands open to the public since 1965, five years after the Perkins-Freeman family deeded the property to the City of New York. Much of its stunning visual appeal can be attributed to the stewardship of Marco Polo Stufano, Wave Hill’s first Director of Horticulture, whose guidance transformed the site from neglected to spectacular and whose cutting-edge vision and gifts for combining colors, textures and forms still informs the garden’s varied borders and planting designs.

From the Pergola Overlook, full of seasonal plantings in containers that change frequently, to the Aquatic Garden – at its best in late summer and fall – to the Wild and Flower Gardens and beyond, there is eye-arresting beauty and information for every level of gardener to absorb and reflect on. This is a treasure for everyone, and shouldn’t be missed if you’re visiting or living in the New York area.

Wave Hill is open Tuesdays through Sundays year-round and certain holiday Mondays. Closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. For more information, visit its website.

Technical Notes: All of these images were shot with my first serious digital camera, a Nikon D100. These days I’m thinking of converting it to an infrared camera because it’s so outdated compared to my D300. But when I sat down the other night to look at these photos in order to post them here, I was surprised at how well they have held up.  OK, maybe it’s due at least in part to obeying the mantra, “Use a tripod, use a tripod.” But whatever the reason, the photography gods were smiling that day; it was overcast and calm even though I couldn’t get in until 9 am when the garden opened. (Confession: the one pergola photo with a blue sky has had some Photoshop magic worked on it so I could turn it into a notecard.)

See the other Hudson River Valley posts:
Opus 40
Stonecrop Gardens

A Room with a View

January 11, 2010

Years ago, when my family was planning to move to a house with a kitchen the size of a postage stamp, we concluded that cooking in a room too small for two people to turn around in wasn’t a good idea. So we decided to expand the existing kitchen to a space roughly the size of an airplane hangar and hired a young architect who presented us with a bang-up set of plans.

There was only one problem: no windows on the west-facing wall of the new addition. I was clueless, but my then-husband was adamant, insisting we add one. Whatever, I thought idly, ruminating about pull-out shelving.

Little did I know that by insisting on a window in the west-facing wall of our new kitchen, my ex ended up providing me with one of my favorite views of the gardens that surround our house. Of course, back in 1988, when all this was transpiring, I wasn’t a gardener and could have cared less. But I will be eternally grateful for his persistence.

The view from my kitchen window

The view in question isn’t spectacular; but it looks out into both a shady area and beyond it, a sunny one as well. A wobbly cedar arch, in past years a perch for robins’ nests, delineates the two areas and some broken flagstone pavers lead your eye from the inner garden to the outer space and disappear in the distance. Spring views include a massed bank of crimson-pink azaleas and a dogwood in bloom. In summer, the back-lit grasses and a tuteur in the sunny border. In fall, everything is in a lovely, over-the-top state of decline. And in winter – as I write this – I see the stalks of Liatris, coneflowers, and the stems of a red-twig dogwood shrub (Cornus alba ‘Ivory Halo’)  sometimes laced in snow.

There are other views from inside my house that I love, the loveliest of which has to be a magnificent old flowering crabapple tree (Malus floribunda) whose branches are so architecturally arresting that I’ve never wanted to screen them from view from the bay window. Even when it’s not in bloom, the sight of this tree is a gift I can’t do without. And last but not least cherished is the view from the window next to my bed out into the sunny part of the garden, especially in spring when the azaleas – hardly my favorite shrub except for this time of year – are in bloom.

My bedroom window view in spring with daffodils and azaleas in bloom.

Every gardener should think about views. When I design for clients, I ask them about important views, but you can do the same for your own space. So make sure there are windows where you want them, if you’re planning new spaces. If you’re working with what you already have, think about what you’d like to see on a daily basis, even if it’s only a lovely curved shape of a bed or a tree or shrub that’s striking in two or three (or four) seasons. And you’ll have what I have – a room (or two) with a view.

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