The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Villa Gamberaia: Source of Inspiration




The Water Parterre at Villa Gamberaia

I had the good fortune to attend the Chelsea Flower Show on two occasions. Each time, I was struck by the simple modern design of two foreigners: Swedish designer, Ulf Nordfjell, in 2007 and the Italian garden designer, Luciano Giubbilei last May.

Nordfjell's garden was a tribute to Carl Linnaeus and used a Swedish steel, timber and granite elements in a very simple but elegant design. The plant palette consisted of plants known to be cultivated by Linnaeus and plants commonly grown in Swedish gardens. The Giubbilei garden was equally simple and elegant with a pool, bamboo pavilion and sculpture by Peter Randall-Page. He used pink, maroon and brown flowers planted in romantic drifts to great effect.

Both designers have published books chronicling their work. Ulf Nordfjell: Fourteen Gardens and The Gardens of Luciano Giubbilei were coincidentally both published in English last year. I found it fascinating that they both site Villa Gamberaia, the Tuscan masterpiece, as an inspiration.

Nordfjell noted that at Villa Gamberaia "I found what I have often missed in other gardens: architecture, design, and the art of the garden, all unified by the stylistic ideals of the Renaissance man." He goes on to say that the villa "despite its age, feels like a modern and cohesively designed garden." Nordfjell fantasied "in my mind's eye, I find it irresistible to replace today's well-manucred lawns with ethereal beauty of the Tuscan landscape, creating an intimate tribute to nature from its own wildflowers: meadows of grape hyacinths, primulas. daisies and salvias, framed by formal hedging. This would, if such a thing is possible, enhance the genius of the Renaissance garden still further, forming a meeting between garden and the natural landscape, created by our human longing for beauty."

In his late teens, Giubbilei spent some time volunteering at Villa Gamberaia, being mentored by the head gardener, Silvano, who had worked there since the end of the Second World War. When Giubbilei left the villa, "Silvano presented him with a black-and-white record of the garden, a book that would prove a significant influence once his design career was under way. The atmospheric photographs by Balthazar Korab depicted both the architecture and mood of the garden: deep, rich shadows played on intensely lit surfaces, their textures almost tangible." Using these photographs as a model, Giubbilei "wanted to seduce people into entering gardens using the architecture of planting, the texture of the surfaces and the arrangement of sculpture, containers and furniture. His intention was never to imitate but to explore, to understand the sentiment behind the garden and the intensely motivating images."

During a family trip to Italy, I visited Villa Gamberaia in 2000. I was struck by the simplicity of the design and the intimacy of the scale of the garden. I learned the importance of having both shade and light in the garden and the clever use of terracing to divide spaces on a sloped site. I realized that I long for a design that is well-articulated and doesn't attempt to do too many things at once. It reminds me of the advice of an English professor who encouraged us "to say it, say it and say it again." The same clarity of intention is true about effective garden design.

Both of these designers have helped me distill what I found so alluring about Villa Gamberaia. Luciano Giubbilei has reminded me of the importance being influenced by other gardens and art but not to copy them verbatim and Ulf Nordfjell has galvanized in my mind the importance of well-chosen plants to create a desired effect within the confines of a strong design.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Going, Going, Gone


The Mighty Oak Tree on High Street

The View of the Crown of the Oak Tree From My Garden

Getting Ready to Remove the Oak

About Two Thirds of the Branches Have Been Removed

An Enormous Crane Carries the Huge Branches to the Ground

The Arborist Gets Ready to Attach the Cable to a Branch

The Main Trunk

Another Look at the Main Trunk

A Stump 64 inches in Diameter

Elephantine Logs

The Stump

The New Appearance of the House

The Large Oak in My Yard

The Small Oak in My Yard

I am not ordinarily a tree hugger, especially since we moved to New England. Turn your back on a field for 10 years and you have a science experiement illustrating the finer points of forest succession. At the turn of last century, something like 20% of New Hampshire was deforested. Today approximately 80% of the state is again woodland. Trees want to grow here. That said, there are some trees that I feel are sacred. The mammoth red oak, Quercus rubra, three houses down from our house on High Street was one such tree.

I became acquainted with this fine tree when I was searching for our first house in 1989. There were three houses in the neighborhood that I looked at. The old cape at the corner of High Street and Vine Street was very sweet but seemed a little small for our needs but I couldn't help but admire the enormous oak tree on the front yard. We ended up buying a house up the street and I was fortunate enough to pass this glorious tree on my walk to work each morning.

Early one morning last spring, I was driving to go on a hike and I couldn't help but notice that an enormous branch had broken off the tree and crushed the second floor of the house. Fortunately, the owners sleep on the ground floor and no one was hurt. During the summer, the entire second floor was replaced by the insurance company. Their only caveat was that the tree had to be removed in order for the owners to remain insured.

Last week, the Arborists arrived and methodically removed the tree, branch by branch, with a pair of cranes. I had always figured the tree was ancient but the aborist determined that it was about 150 years old. The remaining stump was 64 inches in diameter. There are two red oak trees in my garden. One is about 90 years old the other is probably about 45 years old. I take comfort in believing that my trees are the progeny of that magnificent tree down the street.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pruning Inspiration From Pack Monadnock

Gnarly Oaks at the Peak of Pack Monadnock

The silhouette of Oaks in the Direction of Mount Washinghton

A Crabapple tree that was on the Property when we bought the House in 1989

Magnolia sieboldii Artfully (I hope) pruned

Limbed up Cornus officinalis

I hike Pack Monadnock, a mountain near my house, about 5 or 6 mornings a week. It is a 1.3 mile march up the road to the peak of the mountain--I think of it as my personal outdoor stair-master. At the top of Pack, there is a group of oak trees that, due to the extreme weather, have never gotten a chance to reach their mature size and have developed a gnarly shape over the years. I love the silhouette they produce in the sky. I often refer to my memory of them as I am pruning the small trees in my garden. Now that the leaves have fallen off the trees, it is an excellent time to evaluate the lines of the trunks and make some adjustments in order to make the branches on the trees just a little more intriguing.



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thanks for Another Great Season

The volunteer gardeners had their last work day a couple weeks ago and I wanted to thank them for all their efforts this gardening season. This was our 12th year working together in the parks of Peterborough.

Back row: Nancy O'Neill, Laura Trowbridge, Mollie Amies, yours truly and Terry Reeves. Front row: Maude Odgers, Molly Beyer, Jeannie Connolly and Bob Wilder, town employee. Missing from the picture: Susannah Parish, Amy Manny and Sarah Bay.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tovah's Tulip Tip

I finally plated all the tulips this week after our Halloween snow. Unfortunately, I have a vole and chipmunk problem. This year, I took some advice from Tovah Martin's blog PlantsWise about how to protect bulbs from rodents. She recommends, "my secret is to sandwich the bulbs between crushed oyster shells (you can buy them in large bags from the farm feed store as “chicken grit”). It works." So I went to Agway and got some chicken grit and gave it a try. If Tovah's tip is successful, I'm going to add some chicken grit to the hole when I plant or divide herbaceous plants that the rodents munch on. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. You learn something new every day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Four Season Garden





For those of you in the Monadnock Region, I will be giving a talk, sponsored by the Peterborough Garden Club, called The Four Season Garden on Monday, November 14 at 10 am at the Peterborough Historical Society. The presentation is free to the public and all are welcome.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Acer triflorum at the Arnold


Here are a trio of Acer triflorum trees in their blazing fall foliage glory at the Hunnewell Visitor Center at the entrance to the Arnold Arboretum. When I was searching for trees to plant in my garden, I thought it would be a good idea to see what trees and shrubs were chosen by the Arnold Arboretum to be placed in such a prominent location on their grounds. I selected Acer triflorum after seeing these trees a dozen years ago. It is a decision I don't regret.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Trick or Treat?



We got over 18" of snow last night, the day before Halloween. The red oak, Quercus rubra, in lower garden glows like a jack-o-latern in the morning light. It appears that trees, even with large leaves, that generally retain their foliage are well-adpted to let snow glide of their leaves and reduce the risk of damage during early season snowfalls.


Fortunately, there has been little damage so far to the ornamental trees like Cercidiphyllum japonicum which have held onto their leaves. Today, this tree reminds of the cultivar Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Pendula'. The bad news is that I didn't have time to finish planting all the bulbs which arrived this week from Brent and Becky's Bulbs. I have over 100 tulips yet to plant!

We live on a one of the few streets where the houses are close together in a small New England town. We are expecting 300 trick or treaters tomorrow. Could be a little scary.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sorbus alnifolia: Loaded with Fruit and Teeming with Birds

A glimpse of the trio of Sorbus alnifolia trees at PES

The Korean Mountain Ash Grove

Beautiful Fall Foliage and Loaded with Fruit

Close-up of the Fruit

Several years ago, Sue Copley, the former principal of Peterborough Elementary School (PES) asked me to help with landscaping the campus. Given that school was across the street from our house and the fact that my wife, Betsy, was a third grade teacher there, it was easy to say yes. It was also an opportunity to try a tree that I had always longed to have on my own garden but didn't have room for: Sorbus alnifolia, the Korean Mountain Ash.

Sorbus alnifolia originates from nothern Korea and is hardy to Zone 3. Its attributes include pretty white flowers in May, brilliant fall foliage and spectacular coral-red fruit. Michael Dirr states that it is "one of my favorite all around trees." In October, the trees are loaded with juicy fruit and the leaves are turning yellow to orange to a lovely golden brown. Probably the nicest attribute of the tree for a schoolyard is that it attracts flocks of birds. Other day when I took these photographs there were dozens of robins and cardinals devouring the abundant fruit.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bulbs for the Bridges

Three sizes of Pots for Three size Bulbs

Joan, Maggi and I pot up the Bulbs

Francie Digs the Trench

Joan and Francie Plant the Bulbs in the Trench for the Winter

Photo credit: Francie Von Mertens

Francie Von Mertens, founder of the Community Garden Project, and her crew have been making the boxes on the bridges in Peterborough beautiful each season for over a dozen years. The summer display is ending and the winter greens will be placed in the boxes by Thanksgiving. But now is the time to plan for next spring.

Bulbs can not survive the changes in temperature that would occur in a pot or a flower box over the winter. They must be fooled into thinking they are planted in the ground. The bulbs are planted in plastic pots and placed in a trench covered with a layer of soil and blanket of leaves for the winter. In April, the pots will be lifted and planted in the 8 flower boxes on the bridges in downtown Peterborough. It sounds like a lot of work, but the pleasure the displays bring in springtime is worth the effort.

The bulbs are not discarded after their bloom has faded. Every year the bulbs are recycled and planted in public places throughout Peterborough. They have found homes in parks, schools and along sidewalks in town. The bulbs are selected to perform well in both situations. This year we chose Narcissus 'Fortissimo', Narcissus 'Thalia' and Muscari armeniacum. Each are long-lived natuarlizers. N. 'Fortissimo' a 18''-20'' large cupped daffodil has an amber-yellow perianth and a reddish-orange cup. It is size and color that can be easily appreciated from a car driving over the bridge. N. 'Thalia' is a circa 1916 and is a elegant 16''-18'' Triandrus daffodil which has pendant white fragrant flowers. Of course no spring display should be without the lovely blue flowers of the grape hyacinth.

As the bulbs slumber throughout the long New Hampshire winter, the citizens of Peterborough anxiously await the harbinger of springtime: the exuberantly plated flower boxes on the bridges in Peterborough.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Only the Good Die Young

The Entrance Garden at Depot Park is full of Tender Plants



The Planter at the Pavilion at Depot Park is filled with annuals

The Planter at Putnam Park is also full of Annuals

The Succulents Safely Moved to the Garden Room

Trash cans and my gardening bag make good Frost Protectors


Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious' is just about to flower. A blanket/tarp layer should keep it safe for the next two nights

There is frost warning in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow night. It is a bittersweet moment in the garden because it is blowsy and overflowing with annuals and tender perennials looking spectacular. This afternoon there was a mad rush to bring in the tender potted plants, cover a few in the garden and then hope for the best.

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