Sep 27, 2010

A Passion for Gardening: Julie Willis

All photos are by Julie Willis. 
Julie at Heronswood Garden, The Diggers Club, Dromana, Australia.

 Passion for Gardening
julie willis
Heronswood Garden, The Diggers Club, Dromana, Australia

Julie walked into the gardener's mess at Hidcote wearing blundstones, which gave me a clue where she was from.  Julie is English, currently lives in Australia and works in the Heronswood Garden in Dromana, Australia.  Previously, she  worked as a gardener for 15 years on Hampstead Heath in North London.    

Julie was in the UK as a botanical guide leading a 10-day tour of British gardens and she decided to spend some of her time working with  the gardening teams at Sissinghurst and Hidcote for a week each.
 The Red Border at Hidcote.  Photo by Phyllis Odessey.

Heronswood Garden, Australia.  Photo courtesy of Julie Willis
"I did the work experience at Sissinghurst and Hidcote as I wanted to see how they designed and maintained their herbaceous borders.  I was also interested to see behind the scenes of two of the UK's most iconic gardens."
 Photo by Phyllis Odessey.  Sissinghurst looking down.

Can you describe your experience at Sissinghurst?
"At Sissinghurst, I loved the planting combinations, obviously planted by a designer with a strong sense of form and texture.  The gardening team is so dedicated, they really feel it's an honor to work there, this loyalty results in a amazingly high standard of maintenance with great attention to detail.  The gardeners were also very hospitable and welcoming.  I really felt part of the team, even though I only spent a week with them.
 Photo by Phyllis Odessey.  Sissinghurst

How would you compare gardening in the UK with gardening in Australia? 
"My trip really reinforced the idea that England is a nation of gardeners, it really seems to be the number one leisure pursuit.  During my 10 day garden tour, I saw so many fabulous gardens, lots of different styles, but all great examples of horticultural diversity and excellence. 
Heronswood Garden. Photo Courtesy of Julie Willis
Of course the weather contributes greatly to the look of the gardens in the UK, cooler temperatures, regular rainfall and soft lighting really make the country look lush and verdant all year round.

Heronswood Garden.  Photo courtesy of Julie Willis
In stark contrast, the intensity of the sun in Australia not only scorches the gardens, but also bleaches out colors and turns the landscape brown.  Plants that survive these conditions well are those with blue, grey and silver foliage, so there's rarely that cool dark green look of the UK.

Heronswood Garden.  Photo Courtesy of Julie Willis
Warm temperatures and plenty of sun does have its positives though, we enjoy a year round growing season, which is great for the veggie garden, and we can grow all manner of exotics including citrus and avocados."

In terms of sustainability, what are the concerns of Australians?
"Probably the biggest concern for Australian gardener is water, or rather, lack of it.  Last year, it didn't rain for 3 months, and even when it did rain, it was only small showers that really evaporated before it had time to soak in.  Everyone has rain water tanks, usually a minimum of 5,000 litres, we've just installed one at work of 240,000 litres, and we always have a bucket in the shower to catch the water to use on the garden.  Recycling grey water is big business here."

Heronswoods Garden.  Photo Courtesy of Julie Willis.
The majority of gardens here are based on English design, herbaceous borders and cottage style plantings are popular.  My favorite gardens are the Australian ones though, those using native plants.  I suppose it's new and exciting for me and feels very exotic, just as the English plants are to the Aussies."

*****All photos supplied by Julie Willis of Heronswood Garden, The Diggers Club, Dromana, Australia, except those by Phyllis Odessey where noted.

Sep 19, 2010

Never Be Limited By Good Taste: Sakonnet

Never Be Limited
By Good Taste
Sakonnet Garden
John Gwynne
Mikel Folcarelli

Metro Hort
September 15, 2010

The Rake's Progress: 
Experiments in Reconciling Plant Collecting
and Design at Sakonnet. 

Every gardener can relate to the design vs. collecting dilemma.  You want it ALL.   In the "old" days,
I coveted every plant I saw.  Things are different now. 
I want it all, but I've learned this doesn't work; so have Gwynne and Folcarelli.  At Sakonnet, their garden in coastal Rhode Island, they've turned their passion for collecting into a series of garden spaces.

John and Mikel are in the creative business and  they look at their garden, as they look at a painting.  Who plants a garden to look like a Bonnard painting?  Who creates a garden "room" so that every plant will be backlit? The owners of Sakonnet do.

John articulated some principles of his garden design.

1.  Create an Experience
2.  Divide Space
3.  Layer your garden
4.  Don't reveal everything at once
5.  Texture is more important than you think
6.  Lighting is powerful
7.  Never forget about Fun in the garden

These two plant collectors are now in the editing phase.  As John said, the garden is "too small for our dreams, and too large to maintain." But they still want it all.  They already have "controlled nature and now they want to create nature without the hand of man being obvious.  They are currently working on a wildflower meadow.  I too find myself gravitating toward the uncontrolled, the "natural" and the romantic.

It's hard lesson when you realize that nature may be the best designer of all.

Sep 15, 2010

The Ebb & Flow: Beth Chatto Garden

Ebb and Flow
I immediately felt at home in Beth Chatto's garden. My garden in Vermont and the Chatto garden have something in common: they both depend on structure and texture more than floral display.  In my own garden and the Chatto garden,  you walk around curvy paths and discover the garden as you go. I realized that so many of the ideas in my own garden owe a debt to Chatto's experiments and plantings. 

Fergus Garrett, Head Gardener, Great Dixter
"I am one of the many who is privileged to have been touched by the hand of Beth Chatto.  She has influenced me like she has influenced many others.  Gardeners from all over the world have taken her lead for the right plant right place, and have had our eyes opened to texture, shape, and form.  From the largest details to the finest minutiae she has made us look, see, and understand."

Penelope Hobhouse
"Forty years on, thanks to Beth, we study plant needs and the conditions of their native habitat before we try to arrange them.  A garden is 'good' if the planting schemes are suitable, and this is far more important than ephemeral associations based only on 'looks'.

Roy Lancaster
"50 years of seeing, thinking, listening, learning, dreaming, doing, selecting, planting, sowing, growing, digging, splitting potting, pruning, tying, trying, changing, arranging, showing, sharing, travelling, teaching, talking, writing, watching, inspiring, getting it wrong, getting it right, surprises, and regrets, triumphs, graft, colleagues, friends, loved ones past and present, morning, noon and night, no matter what the weather, birds, bees and butterflies, furry friend and foe, scents and aromas, laughter, tears and dramas of a life well spent.  Such is your garden."

The gravel garden was my favorite.  Not only because it looks to the future, but because it's a four season garden.  Previously the car park, the gravel garden is an ongoing experiment.  Although in her nineties, Chatto continues to push the envelope.
"... it seems obvious that many of us will have to abandon some of the plants we have cherished in the past, to learn to plant and rely on plants which have become adapted by nature to drought conditions!"
Beth Chatto

As those four Englishmen said, all you need is love, especially to make a garden.

All photos copyright Phyllis Odessey.  No usage without permission.

Sep 3, 2010

If You Can Do It In Five Months...Hidcote

If You Can Do It
In Five Months...
August 2010
"If you can do it in five months, I will take you all out to lunch."
Glyn Jones, Head Gardener, Hidcote
to the gardening staff, July 26, 2010
If they can cut all those hedges in that amount of time, I think it will be a minor miracle.
I don't know if anyone has calculated how many miles of hedges exist at Hidcote, but no matter the number, it's a task that takes 7 to 8 people, half a year to accomplish.
What if these great historic gardens abandoned hedge cutting?
At Hidcote the hedges define the garden rooms. Without the hedges, the gardens would be a collection of plants in various areas, but they would not have definition and architecture.
These labor intensive gardens are in one sense UNSUSTAINABLE.  They rely on minimum staff and maximum volunteers.  These gardens were created for and by ladies and gentlemen who had a never-ending budget and an inexhaustible amount of people power.

In 2010, can these gardens survive, when none of these conditions exist?

The Process
The National Trust, English Heritage and other organizations (as well as English people) are devoted to sustaining these gardens. The gardeners, whose task it is to do the work, recognize the necessity and the people who enjoy it, appreciate the immensity of the feat. Hats off to Queen and Country!

When it comes to gardening, occasionally, there are some advantages to being an American. 
We have to reap what WE sow and NO MORE.

my window at Hidcote... from which I observe all.

Sustainable Gardening Fellowship
Royal Oak Foundation
National Trust


Sep 2, 2010

Clothing For The Garden: Cotoneaster


The northwest side of my house is death to plants.  I have tried woody shrubs, herbaceous material and various groundcovers.  Nothing has worked.

I was about to give up and throw some grass seed on this woeful corner, but I decided to give it one more chance.  I planted a cotoneaster and it survived, even thrived.

Two weeks ago in Kent, walking around the gardens at Pashley Manor Gardens, I was talking to one of the gardeners.  He was cutting back some euphorbia characias subsp. Wulfenii and next to that euphorbia was a cotoneaster.  

I remarked on how many uses I had seen for cotoneaster in the UK.  
"Yes, they are good clothing for the garden."

Cotoneaster is a shrub I used to dismiss.  
I have gained new respect for its beauty and its utility.

All photos copyright Phyllis Odessey.  No usage without permission.