Archive for September 2010

Dougherty at Dumbarton Oaks

September 25, 2010
Patrick Doughtery, Dumbarton Oaks

Patrick Dougherty on site at his installation at Dumbarton Oaks

About a month ago I received an e-mail from a colleague in the design field asking for assistance with an intriguing project scheduled for that iconic Washington, DC  garden, Dumbarton Oaks. The search was on for tree branches and saplings that could be fashioned by landscape artist Patrick Dougherty into an installation for one of the most famous areas at Dumbarton, the Ellipse.

As some of you may know, I recently stumbled upon one of Dougherty’s other works at the Morris Aboretum,  called the Summer Palace. It is mysterious, graceful, organic, and – well, just beautiful. So I couldn’t wait to see what he had in mind for the Ellipse.

Last Saturday, having been politely rebuffed in my attempts to get a ticket to his talk at Dumbarton this week, entitled “Primitive Ways in an Accelerated World” (no space available), I decided to head to the garden and see if I could at least see what was going on. My timing was perfect – not only was the project almost complete (although not quite), I had a chance to meet Dougherty himself and get a few details about the construction materials and process.

First, let’s set the stage. In the words of Dumbarton’s website, the Ellipse was designed by Beatrix Farrand, Dumbarton’s designer (and the first woman American landscape architect), to be “one of the quietest and most peaceful parts in the garden,”  as a central ellipse of grass surrounded by a high wall of American boxwood Buxus sempervirens. In 1958, Alden Hopkins replaced the declining boxwood with a double row of American hornbeams, Carpinus caroliniana, clipped into an aerial hedge sixteen feet high and fifteen feet wide.

Dumbarton Oaks, Ellipse, Carpinus caroliniana

A view of part of the clipped hornbeam hedge in the Ellipse in 2004.

Dumbarton Oaks, Ellipse, carpinus caroliniana

Even when bare, the pleached hornbeam hedge makes a powerful architectural statement in the garden.

This area (which also now includes a central fountain as a focal point) provides a place to rest, reflect and be still. Its static, monumental nature is what has prompted Dougherty to create a series of what he calls “running figures,” grounded at the base but lacing themselves up into the pleached, leafy canopies of the trees.

Dumbarton Oaks, Patrick Dougherty

The installation of "running figures" glimpsed from a path below the Ellipse

Dumbarton Oaks, Ellipse, Patrick Dougherty

Dougherty's woven pieces reach up into the upper canopies of the pleached hornbeam hedge, interrupting their mass and creating a playful sense of motion.

On the day I visited, Dougherty and his team were about two days away from completing the project. Volunteers dotted the lawn area, completing the day’s work weaving sapling material in the bases of individual figures, then clearing away leftover materials so the area would be clean before the next day’s efforts started.

A volunteer takes a break from sculpting one of the sapling figures on the Ellipse.

Dumbarton Oaks, Patrick Dougherty, Ellipse

Behind the fountain to the left, the scaffolding used to build the higher portions of the figures is visible.

I asked Dougherty what kinds of sapling material he was using. In addition to Cornus florida (flowering dogwood) pieces that I could see, he said they had received maple, elm, hornbeam (Carpinus betulus and C. caroliniana), and sweetgum saplings. All were locally found, many from a farm in Buckeystown, MD (near Frederick).

Dumbarton Oaks, Ellipse, Patrick Dougherty

A closer look at the wide variety of saplings and branches used to construct the "running figures" installation at Dumbarton Oaks.

The installation, which has been named “Easy Rider,” will be on display through this fall and the winter and spring of 2011 “until it becomes naturally weathered and unable to maintain its stability,” according to a Dumbarton Oaks press release. The Summer Palace, which Dougherty described to me as less sturdily built than these figures, is over two years old. Given that fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this installation lasts far longer than that. Do try to visit if you’re in the area. Dumbarton’s hours, which are relatively limited, can be found on its website. More information about Dougherty and his work is available on his own website, here.

A Connecticut Garden Odyssey – Hollister House

September 18, 2010
Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Hollister House Garden

A view from the Apple Tree Terrace out over the Walled Garden at Hollister House.

During my weekend in Connecticut, touring private gardens open in Litchfield County through the Garden Conservancy, I spent an afternoon at Hollister House Garden in Washington, CT. I planned this part of my trip to take advantage of the fact that on the Saturday of that weekend, this garden was open from 3 to 6 pm, which I hoped would afford me more opportunities to have good light for photographing it.

Hollister House was begun in 1979 by its present owner, George Schoellkopf, and is sited on 25 acres of fields and partially wooded landscape. Most of the garden rooms – for this is a property that has many such areas – radiate out from a rambling but appealing 18th century farmhouse building and its surrounding outbuildings.

Hollister House Garden, Garden Conservancy

One of the lush perennial borders at Hollister House, with a farmhouse building in the background

“Romantic” is a good word to describe the feeling of this garden. As in some of the famous English gardens (Sissinghurst, Hidcote, and Great Dixter come to mind), there is a deliberate combination of formal structure and lush, informal plantings. Paths and openings in high hedges and brick walls lead the visitor’s eye and invite you to explore. There is even a “Gray Garden” close to the house, which  mixes whites, grays and cool blue tones around a boxwood-structured space.

Hollister House garden, Garden Conservancy

The "Gray Garden" at Hollister House

Hollister House Garden, Garden Conservancy

Dahlias, Japanese maples and upright yews help create a beautiful mixed border area adjacent to the Gray Garden

Gravel paths were everywhere, easy on the feet and the eye, and providing a medium into which a surprising number of plants had seeded themselves successfully.

Hollister House Garden, Garden Conservancy

A gravel path along the Brook Walk as the light fades at the end of the day.

Hollister House, Garden Conservancy

A small seating area near the Garden House, on the other side of the Walled Garden, with dahlias in bloom behind a bench and overflowing pots.

Hollister House Garden, Garden Conservancy

The gravel-based "Blueberry Plantation" area of the garden, planted with vegetables and sporting a large blue-hued metal container as a focal point.

I’ll end this post – as I began it – with one of my favorite shots: a partial view of the reflecting pool in the Walled Garden.

Hollister House Garden, Garden Conservancy

A small seating area in the Walled Garden, with the reflecting pool to the left.

Hollister House Garden is now owned jointly by Mr. Schoellkopf and a non-profit organization he has founded that is dedicated to the preservation of the garden and the house for the public’s enjoyment and education. It is a project of the Garden Conservancy, and the Board of Directors includes, among others, author Page Dickey and Marco Polo Stufano, former director of horticulture at Wave Hill. This is a garden not to be missed, and I hope to return again soon.

For those of you who might be in New England during gardening season, Hollister House holds visiting hours every Saturday from May through September, and offers group visits by appointment. Check its website for details.

A Connecticut Garden Odyssey, Part 1

September 11, 2010

On the morning of the last weekend of August, my two sons headed West to explore the Grand Canyon on a raft. Not to be outdone, I headed East (well, north, from my perspective) to explore some gardens.

By now many of you know my propensity to head for new gardens, camera in hand, when I have time. On this occasion, feeling somewhat burned out on the design side and weary of heat-stroke-high temperatures in the Washington area, I decided to spend the weekend in central Connecticut, visiting some of the private gardens open on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tours.

On Sunday, August 29th, I managed to make it to all but one of the gardens on the tour. For the most part, they were quite different in size, design aesthetic, and age. Two of them were long-established, owner-designed gardens that made me feel quite at home, despite being much larger than my own. First was the Copeland garden, where the owner greeted me at the entrance and told me about the twenty-plus years he has been working on the house and garden. Although the main “room” where I began my tour was full of boxwoods, roses, and dahlias, my favorite scene came in the woodland garden just beyond the already-beating sun. Although sometimes I find classical statuary in the garden badly placed, here it was perfectly situated.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Copeland Garden, Connecticut

The garden of Martine and Richard Copeland has "rooms" of both sun and shade.

Bookending the day was a garden in Washington, CT, just down the road from Hollister House (which I’ll get to in another post). Georgia Middlebrook has lived at Sprain Brook Farm, which dates back to 1750, for 45 years. The 36-acre landscape, which includes a pond and other water ways, bridges, a very shady garden, herbaceous borders near the house, and a lovely shaded terrace. Late-season bloomers up near the greenhouse and terrace included phlox, lab-lab, rudbeckia, and annuals.

Sprain Brook Farm, Garden Conservancy, Open Days

One of the herbaceous borders, complete with sundial, near the terrace at Georgia Middlebrook's garden in Connecticut

In between, I visited three more gardens (whew). Number two on the itinerary was the estate of Mrs. Michael Weiner, also in Roxbury. This property, which consists of 300 acres (sixty of which are planted), has been developed over a period of twenty years under the guidance of Tommy Verderosa, who ferried some of us back and forth between the parking area and the front door. I stole a few minutes of his time on the ride to the house; he explained that almost all of the mature trees on site have come from other parts of New England, planted as sizeable specimens to begin with. The gardens in front of the house included a large man-made lake and waterfall and many areas where large sculptures drew the visitor’s eye.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Wiener Garden

This sculpture reminded me of Brancusi although I could find no artist's signature.

In the rear garden, on a grassy lawn below a terrace overlooking a stunning mountain view, was another large sculpture, this one by Alan Shayne, whose garden I was to visit later.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days 2010, Weiner garden, Alan Shayne

An enormous apple sculpture by Alan Shayne on the back lawn at the Wiener garden.

As this photo suggests, carefully pruned conifers and other evergreens in contrasting colors are the building blocks of many parts of the Wiener garden. I left with my head spinning from the chartreuse, blue and green tones and the scale of it all (Mr. Verderosa said that in addition to himself, a staff of five or six gardeners works full time five days a week during the growing season to keep the garden looking its best).

My next stop was the garden of Norman Sunshine and Alan Shayne, in Washington Depot. The Open Days Directory describes the garden as “a large, meticulously maintained country garden in a pastoral setting of fields and ponds with rolling hills in the distance.” As my British friend Jill would say, “spot on.” By now it was noon-ish and I was cursing the blazing sun (not to mention the unusually high temperatures for the region), but these images should give you an idea of the place, which I loved. The owners designed it themselves, and they have struck the right balance in providing interest around the house without competing with the simple but spectacular views beyond it.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Shayne and Sunshine garden

I appreciated the swan posing so patiently on the pond.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Sunshine Shayne garden

A wisteria-shaded arbor provides the perfect view out past a perennial border and the pool to the low stone walls and pastureland beyond.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Sunshine Shayne garden

An old-fashioned cottage garden is the first thing to greet arriving visitors at the Sunshine-Shayne garden.

Alan Shayne sculpture, Garden Conservancy, Open Days

A small sculpture garden displaying some of Alan Shayne's work is tucked away behind the main wing of the house.

Next stop was “Muddy Rugs,” another Washington Depot garden “welcoming new gardeners.” The owner, who works in interior design in New York City, has designed this relatively new garden himself and divides his time between this, his country house, and life in the city. Like the Sunshine/Shayne garden, this property is surrounded by a large stretch of open lawn, but the view is closed in by a line of large mature trees which provide screening from neighbors’ properties on one side and places to explore on the other.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Connecticut, Muddy Rugs

The view from the back terrace at Muddy Rugs, down to a pool with two weeping cherries and the woods beyond.

In the woods behind the house, just short of a low stone wall, I discovered a small bistro table with two metal chairs. Suspended above it was an extraordinary-looking “chandelier,” which in the evening can hold candles and flowers for outdoor drinks or dinner.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Muddy Rugs

The woodland chandelier

Muddy Rugs also has a “sculpture garden” in front of the house, with boxwood, groundcovers and perennials. Kudos to the owner for giving us so much to look at and starting such a promising garden! Plans are being made to develop a walking path on the hill above the house as well as a woodland garden near the “chandelier” area.

* * *

Coda: At the end of a long, lunch-less day (unlike some of the other resourceful visitors I saw, I hadn’t thought to pack a sandwich), I opted for a very early dinner at a new restaurant in Washington (? the mailing address is apparently New Preston – whatever) called Community Table.

Community Table restaurant, Washington CT

The Community Table restaurant on Litchfield Turnpike doesn't take reservations, but it makes a mean gazpacho.

All its food is locally sourced, the ambience is lovely, and the most unusual feature of the place is a 300-year old “communal table” carved from a walnut tree (I think).

Community Table Restaurant, Connecticut

Come early for your choice of tables at the Community Table restaurant.

I had a gazpacho so delicious I had to restrain myself from licking the bowl. CT plans to remain open through the fall and most of the winter – they are canning and preserving fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms. Rumor has it that they plan to close only for the month of February. Don’t miss this if you’re in the neighborhood!

More DC Open Gardens on September 25th

September 4, 2010

Remember last May’s Open Days tour in DC, sponsored by The Garden Conservancy? Well, mark your calendars again, for Saturday, September 25th, when five more gardens will be on display as our local Open Days events draw to a close.

Four of the gardens are in the District of Columbia; the other one is in the Woodside Park neighborhood of Silver Spring, Maryland in close-in Montgomery County. Here’s a little preview of  the gardens.

Landscape designer Corinna Posner has two gardens on the tour – her own and one next door to it. A wooden arbor and gate connect them. Corinna’s garden  is overflowing with juxtaposed colors, textures and foliage, all informed by a European design sensibility.

Garden Conservancy, Posner garden

Corinna Posner's back yard garden is a visual feast.

Her neighbors’ garden is smaller in scope but full of wonderful stone walls that are both functional and aesthetic. The designer left the owners plenty of space to play with annuals in mixed beds, and even the shady parts of the garden have mixed plantings that set off the stone work beautifully.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days, Kendig-Dumont garden

The shady side of the Kendig-Dumont garden with its dining terrace and raised planting beds.

Elsewhere in the District, visitors will be able to explore the delights of a private garden on Benton Place, N.W., where a tropical border in the garden shines its brightest in the fall;

Garden Conservancy, Open Days

and to wander through the developed part of a 2.5-acre garden that belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Duemling, near American University. The Duemling’s gardener grows most of the thousands of annual plants on the premises either from seeds, plugs, or cuttings, and the borders change every year.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days tours

A view of the "turret" wing of the Duemling house from one of the lower terraced areas.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days

One of the mixed borders, filled with shrubs, annuals, and perennials.

The final garden, located in Silver Spring, Maryland, is nestled in a wooded neighborhood on a lot with a number of level changes. The designer, Mary May, has turned the challenges presented by the site into an opportunity to create a number of garden “rooms” around the house, including a variety of seating areas for small gatherings as well as a lower level of mixed border plantings. For now, a view of the front yard, taken last September, will have to set the stage.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days

The front terrace of the Hester garden, one of the beautiful gardens scheduled to be open in the DC area on September 25th.

For more information on each of these gardens, including their addresses, visit the Open Days website. Admission is $5 per garden, although the Posner/Kendig-Dumont gardens count as one (what a bargain!) for purposes of the tour. Gardens will be open, rain or shine – hope to see you there!

Photos from the Open Days gardens in DC are included in my book, The Garden Is Open. For a preview or to purchase a copy, please visit the “My Books” page.

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