Oct 29, 2010

Tell Me Something I Don't Know!

Tell Me Something
 I Don't Know!
Jane Garmey at the New York Horticultural Society

Delicious Solitude is what Jane Garmey wanted to call her new book.  Her editor said no way!  Instead, we have the straight-forward title, Private Gardens of Connecticut.

Connecticut is the 3rd smallest state in the union, and one of  the wealthiest. The gardens Ms. Garmey highlighted in her talk at the Hort Society  are owned by Oscar de la Renta, Agnes Gund, Bunny Williams, Ann Bass, etc., etc., etc.  The influences she sited:  Russell Page, Piet Oudolf, Le Notre, Walter Beck.

Ms. Garmey's thesis: The garden is essentially a private place.  Perhaps this sense of privacy prevented her from probing some important questions; such as insight into the making of the gardens or design intention.   In the end, Private Gardens of Connecticut is a book of very good photographs by John M. Hall and not much else. 

 The Writer in the Garden edited by Garmey  has been on my bookshelf for years. It is full of rich tidbits from famous gardeners.  It's book I return to again and again.  "Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination," said Alice Morse Earle in 1897.  I only wish Ms. Garmey used her imagination a bit more in this new book. 

To keep on attending lectures, talks, etc., I have learned two things.:
you  have to be an optimist and go with no expectations.

Oct 23, 2010

Home Is Where...

              my laptop is

In many ways I am a homebody.  And yet, I am the first person to whip out a suitcase and get on a plane. I love to travel and wherever I am, I have a habit of trying to make, even a hotel room, a little bit more like a home.

During my time in the UK, the cottage known as #6 (across the street from Nymans, the National Trust Garden, I worked in) was my home, but not quite.  The cottage, devoid of personality,  is an accommodation for students and visitors.  There are no pictures on the walls, the colors are neutral, the furniture anonymous.  It's a place to "hang your hat" and no more. 

After three months out of the country, my own apartment was eerily familiar. Every piece of furniture  painstakingly chosen, every glass and plate selected for its color and shape.  It's home in the city.  It was a curious and surprising feeling, not to feel at home in the cottage and not yet feeling at home in my own apartment.

I did find the one place I felt at home:  my little laptop.  As horrifying a thought as this is, my laptop was the place I was connected to.  That silver rectangle with the apple on top was my bridge between two worlds.  There is no place like home, but sometimes home can take on a whole new meaning.
This is the last blog in a series that started on June 18th when I arrived in the UK to begin my 
Royal Oak Foundation Fellowship in Sustainable Gardening.

Oct 13, 2010

Odd Man Out: James Hitchmough

A meadow in the City of Sheffield

Odd Man Out
Professor James Hitchmough
Department of Landscape
University of Sheffield

"Fertility is the enemy,
Infertility is the friend."

James Hitchmough likes to think about things differently.  And these things are not limited to horticulture.  His world view includes how people interact, their social context, cultural norms and the role of green space in their lives.

"What is meaningful to people 
is what is familiar, comfortable...
I try to build on that vernacular."

I had a chance to meet James in Sheffield and talk about his research into meadow communities.  I talked to James about his education and how he got interested in urban space and horticulture.
"I am interested in making connections

" I was lucky to be in  horticulture school at a time when some individuals were beginning to see things differently.  The British were slow to get into the growing connection between wildlife and ecology.  The Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians were dealing wtih these questions as early as the 1920's. 
"Complexity in time and space
is what drives biodiversity."

I started thinking about how to balance the competing interests - how urban areas could meet the needs of people and of wildlife.  We needed to let go of some things and take on some new things.  I wanted to remake the landscape. 
"I make stuff that
looks like weeds"

I moved to Australia for 10 years.  Australian public parks were based on the British model... including the rainfall and temperatures of Great Britain.  We needed to remake this landscape for the Australian climate.  We needed plants that would tolerate drier and hotter conditions.  We collected seed and begin to create grassland communities with lots of flowers.  In a sense we manipulated people by making color the key to their acceptance of an unfamiliar landscape.

"We interview people to find out how their values change as the vegetation changes."

In Britain people expect parks to be interesting and colorful Spring through late Summer.  We know that our native flora will not flower in late summer.  We have used North American asters, which flower late in the season and are a bonus for native invertebrates.  

In Britain we have had plant explorers bringing back plants from all over the world.  Many of these plants have naturalized in Britain.  We need native and exotic species to create a dynamic biodiversity in our gardens. 

At Wisley, Piet Oudolf, and Tom Stuart Smith have both designed gardens, close to the the wildflower meadow created by James.  I asked James to describe the differences in terms of design.  

Both Smith and Piet have different plant palettes.  But both work with repeating blocks which stitch the garden together.  In Piet's case, the edges of garden dribble into one another. 

In my meadow, every plant has a different neighbor on all sides.

"In wildness is the preservation
of the world"
Henry David Thoreau

The Dynamic Landscape: 
Design, Ecology and Management of Naturalistic Urban Plant
            by Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough

Oct 4, 2010

A story behind every plant:GREAT DIXTER

Great Dixter
I met Klaus when we were both working at Hidcote as part of the garden team.  I came from Nymans and Klaus from Great Dixter.

We had a chance to compare notes and I asked Klaus to give me an idea of what it was like to work at Dixter.

Dixter is a working garden.  You can see evidence of this everywhere. 
Above:  The gate to the veg garden.
PO:  Can you describe what it was like to work at Dixter on a day to day basis?

K:  It was an amazing journey, from day one I was given interesting and challenging things to do.  I never felt I was given lesser work, just because I was a student.  Very often we work in little groups of two or three, but for big stuff all of us would work together.  The work was incredibly varied, not only did I learn how to dig or how to mulch, how to mix soil or how to propagate, but also how to choose plants and how to lay them out, the secrets of succession planting and much more.
A Dixter trademark:  Expect the unexpected.
Every job was explained properly, and there was always a very open atmosphere, critical questions or suggestions were always welcomed and answered.

A little "green roof" at Dixter. 
Unexpected combination of plants grown in pots is an indication of the quirky, surprising plantings at Dixter.
PO:  Can you talk about your impressions of the garden? 
The way it is planted?  To many people it looks like chaos.
K:  Great Dixter is a plantsman garden. There is a story behind every plant. Christopher Lloyd always wanted to have an exciting garden, full of unusual plants and plant combinations, surprising, highly experimental and full of contrast.  We are constantly trying out new combinations in many parts of the garden and some are replanted every year.
The paths at Dixter are narrow.  You feel enveloped in the garden.
There are lots of bedding areas and succession planting is very elaborate.  At the same time we rely a lot on self-seeding annuals, which, carefully edited, give the garden a very casual, wild look.  I think I really appreciate the complexity of the planting.  It is necessary to see how it changes during the seasons.

PO:  If you like Dixter, why?  What about the garden itself? or is it the people? or both?
K:  I like Dixter for many reasons.  The people are just amazing and it is an incredibly busy place, things are changing, projects are launched, changes are made.  It is buzzing with people that come to see what we are doing or just pop in, because they are friends. the garden is wonderfully varied: there are meadows, orchards, exotics, vegetables, and then all those fantastic plants that have been collected for almost a century.

Then of course, the feeling of experimentation, the constant trying of new things.
The exuberance at Dixter is overwhelming. The paths are narrow, you feel like you are almost part of the garden.

PO: Do you think Dixter is an "English" garden?
K:  This is a difficult question. 
What is a typical English garden?  
Are the rooms created by Lawrence Johnson at Hidcote typical of English gardens?  
The mixed border at Dixter is a feature of lots of English gardens, but at the same time it has a very contemporary feel, with all its wildness and meadows coming right up into the garden.

Maybe it's English, in its individuality and its independence of fashion, in the amount of love and work that has been put into it and the respect for its heritage.

A word about the education of gardeners
Klaus, like many fellow gardeners, is a "career changer."   He started attending lectures at the Koenigliche Gartenakademie in Berlin.  He worked in Isabelle van Groennigen's nursery.  This lead him to lectures for Llndscapearchitects at the University.  He worked in the studio of Gabriella Pape and then applied to Dixter.  As many of us have found, working in a garden is a great education.
All photographs copyright Phyllis Odessey.  No usage without permission.