Jun 25, 2009

The Walmart of Gardens

If you want to test your limitations, head up to the heather garden at Fort Tryon Park.

Designed by the Olmsted Brothers in 1935, you can still perceive the bones of a great public park. Sitting at an elevation of 150 feet above Broadway, the heather garden bears little resemblance to its original design. 19th century photos, show the garden entirely made up great mounds of heaths and heathers. It looks like a modernist masterpiece. Uncomplicated in concept, clean lines, a study in texture, unified by its simplicity.

Time has not been kind to this garden. The heaths and heathers have mostly died, a few remain to remind us of what was once there. Neglect and restoration are in evidence. Gardeners with every imaginable taste, limited resources and access to every variety of perennial on the market have gardened here. The result is a plant flea market.

I guessed at the kind of gardener who planted sedums and roses,
the gardener who adored, the heuchera and ornamental grasses,
the gardener who couldnt resist the foxgloves and poppies,
the gardener who had to have anemones and eryngium,
the gardener who preferred the geraniums and the helenium.
I sympathized with all of them.

It's a huge space. Plenty of room. But is there?

And that's what started me thinking. A large space is far more challenging then that small intimate garden room - where throwing everything you like into it, makes it charming. The same cannot be said for a large garden where its all a jumble. It's a good garden for a plant id class. It's not a pleasing aesthetic experience.

Just for comparison wander over the three gardens inside the Cloisters. Small, intimate, restful, idealized spaces from another time. See the power of a square garden contained within walls.

Then head back to the heather garden and challenge yourself to redesign it. What would you save and what would go to the tag sale?

Jun 18, 2009

Purple Sidewalks

The Garden Museum in Lambeth is full of surprises.

Housed in St. Mary-at-Lambeth Church, the museum preserves the interior of the original with the addition of an architectural "insert" designed in 2007, which provides the structure for the museum. In order to enter the museum, you walk through "The Wild Garden" created in 2007. This garden was originally the graveyard associated with the Church. Unlike everything we love about English gardens, this garden is really wild and tries to promote the new natural style or no style. The garden is a combination of perennials, grasses and bulbs surrounded by the odd burial vault. It presents itself as unkempt and unfettered.

The Knot Garden is entered by walking through the museum, by the potting shed and past the theatrical tableau (see photo above) of small primroses. 17th century or knot, the garden is wonderful. Coincidentally the tomb of John Tradescants, one of the early British plant hunters, was rediscovered when the church became a museum. I believe John T. would be proud - the garden is a plant hunters paradise. Its full of old style plants and peonies you don't see much anymore. It's a good reminder that the new hybrids are great - disease resistant, bigger, flasher, but perhaps not better. The 17th century style tulips, including 'Val Tol' were just over; Rosa x alba 'Maxima' was blooming by columns Myrtus communis; big balloons of Rosmarinus officinalis decorated the borders; a good cup of tea is available in the little cafe. Who wanted to leave?

Worth a detour ------ walking to the museum you pass the purple sidewalks of Lambeth.

Jun 1, 2009

How Do The English Do It

unexpected trip to london.
rented great flat
secured ticket to chelsea flower show online
watched bbc hour long Chelsea segment every night on tv
anxiety rising
how to see everything
not taking advice of salesman in the V&A
arrive half early for show
buy program
confused about where to go and what to do first
elbow my way to front of a garden - any garden
try to take in what's going on IN the garden, not around me
press forward
do people think i am the ugly american
heard on tv, designer saying the "earth moved under his feet" upon seeing "x" garden by "x"
the earth definitely did not moved under my feet
it was all too perfect
everything blooming on cue
saw one of the designers with a watering can
a bit of reality
loved one garden by japanese designer
the modern rock garden.
very simple
good play on traditional rock garden (see photo above of squares of sedum)

am not in love

head to the tent
delphiniums reaching for the sky
displays of carrots looking arranged like monarda
olive trees grown in England
a tasting menu of tulips
on verge of breakdown

what to do
go directly to the champagne bar
two overpriced glasses of bubbly later
feeling relaxed.
it's over.

the little street gardens,
container plantings,
wild garden in front of museum of garden history
window boxes around the city.
maybe not earth shattering, but definitely real.