Mar 25, 2011

Nanette Hudson

Gardener, Nymans 
National Trust  Garden,UK
I met Nanette Hudson during the summer of 2010, when I worked at Nymans as part of my Royal Oak Fellowship.  I never made the time to sit down with Nanette and ask her all the questions I wanted to.  Finally, through email, I asked the questions and received the answers.
Nanette (age 4) and her sister helping out her Dad in the garden.
PO:  Why are you a gardener?
NH:  When I was a child I used to help my parents in the garden.  It started when I was about 3 and the back garden was primarily given over to vegetable growing.  It was a regular fun activity to help my Dad lift potatoes, scrub the soil off the carrots or pick berries for a pie.  My siblings and I were given a small plot each in which we were allowed to do anything we distract our 'helpful greenfingers' away from the rest of the garden, I later realised.  My plot consisted almost entirely of a massive Forsythia shrub I was reluctant to prune and I always felt great pride in seeing my 2 meter garden completely weed free and totally over manicured.

As I got older the needs of the family changed, the vegetable plot was grassed over to create more play space for 3 active children and I took it upon myself to mow the lawn.  Every Spring my Mum would plant up the patio containers and hanging baskets with tender fuchsias and trailing petunias, she loves color!  I'd go to the nursery with her and then help her plant up the display, usually in the sunny intervals between heavy April showers.  As summer rolled on the first thing I'd do everyday upon returning home from school was to get out of my uniform, head straight to the garden and water the pots.  I used to love seeing them grow and knowing that my watering them was essential to their survival.

Although becoming a gardener was never an obvious career choice for me, I knew office work didn't suit me.  I felt that my work was pointless dealing solely with a computer screen and voices on the end of a phone.  At the age of 26 I needed a more satisfying and worthy career.  There was a deep draw towards protecting the environment, being outdoors and doing practical work.

Nanette at Nymans on the Massey Ferguson

PO: Can you tell us something about your education as a gardener.
NH:  Whilst searching for a new career I focused my attention on organizations such as English Heritage, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission, charities or government bodies that work to conserve and protect our heritage.  All of them wanted vocational qualifications or prior experience, neither of which I had.

I had a degree in Psychology and Sociology, but was finding that I kept hitting the same brick wall.  This was until I looked on the National Trust website and came across a scheme on their training page, called Careership.  It was paid, 3 year placement in an historic garden that would give you not only practical skills to a high standard, but also allow you to study for the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) level 2, a theory based, respected qualification.
The door to the gardeners "headquarters" at Nymans
There were also practical certificates for tractors, spraying and brushcutters that were all paid by the National Trust.  You could be any age, needed no prior knowledge or experience and would graduate with all the necessary credentials to go straight into a professional gardening position.  All you needed was enthusiasm and a desire to work hard and learn.  It was a fantastic opportunity that I would never have been able to afford otherwise.
The inside of gardeners "headquarters"
I was placed at Nymans in the South of England.  Here I studied NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) levels 2 (basic practical skills) and level 3 (management level horticulture).  I went to college 5 times a year.  College was based in Reaseheath, a four hour drive north of Nymans.  We attended college for 2 week study blocks at a time so 10 weeks a year were spent studying at college.
Here we learned the theory to accompany the practical skills and gained machinery certificates too. 

Iconic View of the garden at Nymans
PO: Give us an idea of your day to day routine at Nymans.
NH: Nymans is a 33 acre garden with 350 acres of wider arboretum and woodland, 11/12 members of garden staff and 3 volunteers per day.  Being such a large garden we rely heavily on machinery to get all the work done.  Hedge cutting alone can take 3 months during the Autumn and into Winter.  We train all volunteers so they can not only develop their skills, but so that they feel part of the team and take ownership over the work too. 
The bamboo garden designed by Nanette in 2009.

PO:  Tell us about the Bulb Project.
NH: Nymans developed a conservation plan 2008-09.  One of the suggestions made was that Nymans needed more colour throughout the year.  To address this a bulb collection was proposed.  The emphasis of the collection would be on tender bulbs with inclusions of some rare and unusual speciments.  There are 5 beds around the garden that have been allocated for this project.  I was assigned this project in late 2009.  
This is one of the bulb sites.  Beds either side of the steps leading up to the pergola. 
I knew almost nothing about bulbs and the cultivation and management of a large collection.  I threw myself into research, I looked through catalogues from our regular plant suppliers, but soon realized I was going to look further a field for more unusual bulbs.
  From left to right: Leucocoryne 'Andes' (April -May), Ixia 'Giant' (June)
and Alstroemeria 'Freedom' (July -November)
 Research took ages, constantly back and forward with ideas, progress came in little steps.  As well as ensuring that the bulbs get the right growing conditions, I also needed to create a border that gelled in terms of design.  This was the hardest bit.  I placed my orders late in the summer of 2010.  Spring flowering bulbs are all planted up in their terracotta pots.  I have designed each border so it will have color from Spring through Autumn.  When one variety has gone over, it will be lifted and returned to the nursery and be replaced by next bulb in the display.
This site is one of the more prominent sites, located in the knot garden by the house.  The Ceratostigma willmottiaum pictured here has already been lifted.  In this bed there are a huge number of bulbs planned for display.  Here are a few:

Gloriosa superba 'Rothschildiana' planned for the summer months.
It will climb up wires on the wall to give display height and informality.

Lycoris radiata.  A difficult bulb to must be patient and persevre with it.
Bessera elegans, a delicate bulb that will flower in Autumn and requires lifting in Winter.
Nomocharis aperta requires cool damp conditions
ideal for the spot in the border under the shadow of the Yew hedge.

PO:  Plans for the Future
NH: I have been gardening now for over 4 years and I love it as much now as I did when I started.  However, it is not a well paid profession and to earn more, especially in historic gardens, you must progress up the gardening ranks.  This is appealing for some, not for me.  

To continue my education and practical gardening and be able to earn a sustainable living which allows my partner and I to plan for the future we are planning a rather radical and unconventional move into running a smallholding.    Alongside chickens, bees, pigs and cows we hope to raise, we plan to have a great fruit and vegetable garden.  This will be a huge learning curve as I have never grown fruit or veg.

Then alongside that we're planning a wonderful garden that we could open on specific days offering guided tours and tea, coffee and cake for paying visitors.  So I would be my own manager with huge potential for learning ...and I still get to get my hands dirty!

What more could a girl want?
Nanette in Italy doing research
I could want nothing more from any interview.  The completeness and honesty of Nanette's responses are indicative of her personality and her gardening style.  Without her companionship, knowledge and friendship, I would have been lost at Nymans.  Thank you Nanette.

P.S.  Nanette is a great baker.  I look forward to biting into one of her cakes soon.

Mar 18, 2011

A Piece of My Mind:
Margaret Roach

Who am I if I am not
mroach@marthastewart dot com any longer?

I have lived in Vermont for 30 years on a dirt road, up a long, unplowed driveway, pulling a sled with groceries, heating my house with a single wood stove, and making a garden. When I speak about living in the country, I feel confident, I know what I am talking about.

Margaret Roach is a force.  She is authentic, intelligent, well-read, well-traveled, well-humored, well-googled and she can definitely put two or three words together without taking herself too seriously.  I have heard her speak, read A Way To Garden, and regularly visit her website.    I like the whole package.  I pre-ordered And I Shall Have Some Peace There and waited for the volume to arrive.
I  finished the book in two sittings.  It's only 260 pages and a fast read. 

"How did I go from SHE WHO LIVES IN THE WORLD to she Who Lives in the Woods, navigating a slow route between the West Side Highway and Valley View Road, where instead of potholes, ruts deeper than the wheel wells shape up to punctuate multiple mud seasons each year?"

How she left her corporate job, moved to the country and made a new life for herself is the subject of this new book.  It is her homage to a "post-paycheck life." Margaret Roach is honest about her struggle to live in a small house, with no partner, no friends (at first) just a cat.  Margaret describes her journey:"jumping ship from a luxury liner into a lopsided-but-nevertheless-floating rowboat." There is more about the weather in this book than about the garden.  Birds, frogs and snakes are given long passages, well-researched passages.

If you have left a job (maybe not a six figure job), but a job you felt stuck in, to take up residence in the country, this book has a lot to say to you.  And if Margaret doesn't, she quotes myriad people who have plenty to say.  As I was whizzing through her book, I kept a piece of paper by my side with a list of books to read. 
 right to left:  Bob Dylan, John Cage, Francis Bacon
Buddha, Joseph Campbell,  May Sarton.
  All quoted in Margaret's book.
At a certain point, Margaret's new life really begins.  From this point on, the book is about LIVING, paying attention, taking a breath and understanding..."there is no where to be but here."  Roach makes a list of changes: bedtime enjoyable, no dread of Sunday night, essential handheld device idle, tasks related to food pleasurable, meditative quality to living.

"... I feel at home with letting the hours and even a whole day unfold, taking reassurances where and when I can get them, from whomever surfaces as the latest in the series of messengers."

For those of us, who have lived in the country and made a decision in our early twenties to stay in a rural place, this book may not speak to you.  I find myself in this group. Margaret Roach uses a lot of adjectives, adverbs and phrases to describe herself:
  skipping ahead 
living inside my head
 self-imposed shut-in
living too much inside my intellect
overactive mind

I found the writing in the book mirrored all of these words and phrases. Even though she nails certain dilemmas, like "You know you've really moved to the country when you have your first local haircut", she doesn't seem to be able to focus the writing.  Roach uses many metaphors in the book related to Buddhist teaching and practice, ATTENTION, ATTENTION, yet that is exactly what her writing lacks.

I couldn't help comparing the role of writing in my life (although, I am sure I don't succeed) with Margaret's.  Writing is exactly what I find centers and organizes my thoughts.  It's all about ATTENTION.  It's about connecting the dots.  It takes restlessness and turns it into quietness.

Bob Dylan
"Well, I wake in the morning,
Fold my hands and pray for rain.
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin' me insane..."

Margaret Roach has found her there.  I found mine a long time ago.  It's peace in the world and in my own head that has proved a lot more elusive.

Margaret Roach ON GARDENING:

"To be a gardener is to come face-to-face with powerlessness (not something written anywhere in the corporate mission statements of Martha or my two previous employers), and to cultivate patience as actively as you do botanical things."

"I know only one thing for certain about gardening now, thirty years in:
Things will die."

"...Whatever you don't kill makes you stronger, though and hungrier for more plants and then some more, and so this imprint deepens:  Curiosity becomes interest, interest becomes hobby, hobby becomes passion, passion becomes life's work, and even spiritual pursuit - the stuff of the heart."


"I am no longer a commercial laundry into which others put coins and get results."

Mar 17, 2011

If You're Depressed,
You're Not Working Hard Enough...

This is how James van Sweden described his Dutch upbringing.  His father was a builder; a man satisfied with his work.  He made things.  van Sweden's take away: a desire for satisfaction with the work that you do.  He found it in landscape architecture.

How our childhoods inform the work we do has been of interest to me for years.  van Sweden recalled his walks along the railroad tracks of East Lansing and time spent at the shore of Lake Michigan as major influences on the landscapes he would later create.  These prairie-like typologies dovetailed with his university years in the Netherlands. The flat, luminous, delft landscape remained a powerful  influence on his work in the garden.  Anyone who has walked through a van Sweden garden understands his affinity for light and the unfettered in the landscape.
Jacob Van Ruisdael

Chicago Botanical Garden.  Photo from Oehme van Sweden Associates

The occasion for the van Sweden film was The Cultural Landscape Foundation presentation:

a celebration of
James van Sweden

Landscape Architect

The film is the fifth Oral History module produced as part of Pioneers of American Landscape Design Project, produced by the Cultural Landscape Foundation.  After the film several clients and colleagues had stories to tell.  After some DIY, Carole Rosenberg, a long-time client, who owned a house in Watermill, hired van Sweden to design her garden, her directive:  "We want a garden that looks like it has been designed by God. And James gave it to us."

For more information about The Cultural Landscape Foundation:

Mar 14, 2011

You Can't See

New York City Gardens
Horticulture Society of New York

An Illustrated talk with Betsy Pinover Schiff
Monday, March 14, 2011

I admit to being a garden snob.  Any chance I have to be a voyeur, I jump on.  And any book that turns me into a nosy parker is worth writing about. 

On Monday night, I went to hear Betsy Pinover Schiff talk about her new book, New York City Gardens.  What to choose? Schiff gave us a glimpse into how she limited her choices:
  1.  Include Public and Private Gardens from all boroughs, not just Manhattan
  2. Since the audience was European, all the gardens should have views of New York City
      landmarks or iconic vistas.

  3.  There had to be surprises and unknowns.
  4.  There had to examples from landscape architects and homeowners/designers.

This book was commissioned by a German publisher and at the time, was going to be distributed to a European audience. Subsequently, the book has been published in French and English.

It's always interesting when you live anywhere to see what you cannot see.  Besides the public gardens selected for this book (New York Botanical Garden, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, The Conservatory Garden in Central Park, The Heather Garden in Fort Tryon Park, The Rockefeller Rooftop Gardens, Wave Hill, etc., etc.) Schiff's choice glimpses a world those of us who pound the pavement and ride the subway rarely see and for me that is the value of the book.  The photographs are well-done, the text is illuminating, but 5,000 sq. ft. of terrace with elaborate lace-work wrought iron pergola the length of the building makes you gasp.  

In addition to the traditional, Schiff includes two landscape architects who are as far away from a Italiante terra-cotta pot filled with papyrus as you can get:  Ken Smith and Topher Delaney.  Ken's camouflage garden for MoMA, which can only be seen from above and Topher's garden for a private residence, which is totally empty except for mirrors were the stars of the "show." 

At the end of the talk, Schiff was asked about her next book.  In the 1950's, Ruth Orkin took hundreds of pictures of Central Park from her window.  Schiff has taken up the baton, and decided to photograph the Park from windows on all four sides.  Let's wait and see if she can top Ruth Orkin.

Mar 10, 2011

in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Flower Show
Springtime in Paris

THIS YEAR IS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT.  Instead of bemoaning artificiality; I am going to embrace the fake, the contrived, the manipulated.  I will celebrate hyacinths next to phlox, crab apples underplanted with lettuce, lilacs and marigolds blooming together.

There is something masterful in the recreation of Parisian scenes in plants.  One of my favorite places in the whole world...The Palais Royal is referenced...

An allee of plastic tree trunks with a vertical green wall of pleached foliage.

A toy boat from a pond in the Luxemborg Gardens is set in a "lake" of pansies.

A "typical" French interior of the fin de siecle with Sevre vase and mirror.
And some departures from the literal...

some good advertising.
Inspired by a topiary Rodin, I started thinking ...
the show this year concentrated on floral arrangements; just a few mini-environments.  Elbowing my way to the front of each extravaganza, camera in hand, excited, why?

After three months of gray weather; the point was color and the fresh smell of Spring flowers.

As Dorothy said to Toto,
"We are not in Kansas anymore"
and we are not in Paris. 
We are transported to a sensual world for part of a day.
I guess, I'll take it!

Mar 5, 2011

to the plants

Desert Botanical Garden, Scottsdale, AZ

American Public Garden Association
Dale Chihuly Desert Towers at the entrance to Desert Botanical Garden
March 2-4, 2011
Hosted by the Desert Botanical Garden

Normally, I like to save the best for last, but not today.  The most radical talk at the APGA symposium was given by two scientists from the Desert Botanical Garden:  Dr. Joseph R. McAuliffe (Associate Director of Research) and Dr. Kimberlie A. McCue (Program Director, Conservation of Threatened Species and Habitats).    They posed the following question:  How do you keep a species from becoming extinct?

The answer:  A plant in every yard.

To spice things up a bit, Dr. McAuliffe was wearing his Che Guevara beret.  We know that seed banks (Kew Millennium Seed Bank in the UK) and seed vaults (Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway) are trying to preserve our biodiversity, however, seeds, even under the best circumstances, are only viable for a certain amount of time. 

Both McAuliffe and McCue look at this potential disaster and think about ways we can make an ecological difference.  The way to change a plant's status from threatened to common is to put it in the hands of the people. For example, the Key Largo Tree Cactus is a threatened plant.  The way to preserve this plant is to make it available to people who live in the region where that plant is native.   If you "release"this plant to the public, you have to keep it in its native habitat.
The Key Largo Tree Cactus in bloom.

"Marshall the power of the people,"  this is not the kind of speak you hear from scientists.  For McCue and McAuliffe, to keep our biodiversity, we need to think outside the box, challenge conventional paradigms.  One-third of all plant species are threatened with extinction, this kind of creative, innovative thinking may be the solution.  And it's definitely the reason I go to these conferences. 

"I am a generalist"
Clare Sawyers
Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore College

Authors want to sell books, I get it.  Clare Sawyers is a thoughtful thinker, advocate for public gardens and author of The Authentic Garden.
Her talk at the at the symposium went over the 5 principles in her book:
1.  Work with what you have been given
2.  Derive beauty from function
3.  Use humble materials and honor those materials
4.  Marry the inside with the outside
5.  Involve the visitor
That wasn't enough for me.  I want to recommend two gardens Clare showed in her presentation. I have put them on my list:  Oaxaca Ethnobotanical Garden in Mexico, and Spring Preserve in Nevada.

Levels of Richness
Lauren and Scott Ogden
This conference brought together some of the really important names in the garden world.  Lauren and Scott Ogden are authors of  Plant Driven Design:  Creating Gardens That Honor Plants, Place and Spirit.   

I appreciate the Ogdens.  They have blazed a trail away from the glossy gardens of perfection found in magazines.  They are not plant divas, but great plantsmen.  After listening to their talk, I put their book at the top of my pile.

"I have zone envy."
Scott A. Scarofone

I don't like rules, especially in horticulture.  When you are going to school you take a lot of courses, where instructors try to lay a foundation for design and color.  Scott Scarfone of Oasis Design Group gave us the 10 steps to creating a good design.  I turned off my "hearing" aid.    This type of approach reduces design to simplistic understanding of complicated intentions and that is why I object to it.

"Show Girls and Drag Queens"

Tres Fromme, Studio Outside

After nearly 12 hours of presentations, finally, a guy with a sense of humor.  Tres Fromme is a principal at Studio Outside in Texas.
Atlanta Botanical Garden, Edible Garden
for public horticulture."

Tres Fromme's presentation focused on branding, a word not often heard in the hushed hallways of public horticulture.  He and Mildred Pinnell Foekele, Director of Horticulture at the Atlanta Botanical Garden gave a joint presentation.  Cosmos and Cosmopolitans, Hydrangeas and Highballs...getting people into the garden is Tres' mission.  How to create a sense of urgency among visitors  are some of the topics Fromme addressed.  He specializes in the WOW factor.  And that WOW factor is taking an institutions assumptions and turning them on their head. 
Sunset at the Desert Botanical Garden, opening night.

This symposium is one of APGA's  professional development events.  For me, one of the most valuable aspects was talking with the participants, exchanging ideas, sharing information, commiserating on problems and getting refreshed for the work week staring tomorrow.  I am ready to go with a few new coping strategies. 

Fictitious Plants

Series of 5 Photographs and Texts
Troika's Plant Facts, Plant Fiction (2010) was included in The Art Institute of Chicago's  show "Hyperlinks: Architecture and Design".  
"Troika is widely known for their experiential artworks and its practice is positioned at the junction where art, architecture, and technical inventions intersect.  Notable in their formal simplicity and sense of humour, Troika's installations and sculptures engage the viewer in an often playful, sometimes contemplative manner." from Troika's website

Reading about LeNotre and Versaille lately, Troika's work caught my eye.  It's about a different kind of control over nature.  Developing GMO and the like, modern science believes in its ability to change nature, develop disease resistant species and improve our overall well-being.  Troika questions this assumption.

"Plant Fiction" turns genetically modified plants on their head. In this futuristic senario, Troika imagines... plants that would self-decompose in gain of biofuels, plants that excrete unique pigments to be implemented in security devices, creepers that can sense air-borne viruses and plants that reclain gold from electronic circuits found in landfills". from Art Institute introduction to the show Hyperlinks.

It's reassuring to know, that this troika of three are thinking about the future of our plants, not just those of us with dirt under our fingernails.

Troika has authored two books to date:  Digital by Design and Moscow Style.