The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Vita's Frost

Gardener, if you listen, listen well:
Plant for your winter pleasure, when the months
Dishearten; plant to find a fragile note
Touched from the brittle violin of frost.

Vita Sackville-West from The Garden

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Boccelli's Bones

February, 2009

April, 2009

June, 2009

August, 2009

November, 2009

December, 2009

The Boccelli Garden is a public garden I designed in downtown Peterborough, NH. It is situated along a granite wall and is next door to the old GAR Hall, originally a Civil War veterans organization which found new life as a teen center. It was named in honor of Maria and Michael Boccelli who were Italian immigrants that lived in a house on the sight. The Boccellis had a boarding house during the depression and no person in need was ever denied a night's stay and a hot meal.

The Boccelli Garden is a mixed border, 16 feet deep and 60 feet long. When I designed the border in 2000, I consulted an article in White Flower Farm's magazine, The Gardener. The Gardener was a (sadly) short-lived periodical with drawings and no photographs or advertisements. The article was written by Fergus Garrett, Christopher Lloyd's head gardener at Great Dixter in East Sussex, England. It was titled Making a Mixed Border. It explained the process used to design the mixed border that Fergus and Christopher Lloyd were building for White Flower Farm in Litchfield, CT. It was modeled after the famous Long Border at Dixter. That article was an abbreviated precursor to Lloyd's book called Succession Planting for Year-round Pleasure, a must read for anyone planning a mixed border.

After reading Fergus' article, it became clear to me that the first design decision would be regarding the garden's appearance in winter. The composition and arrangement of plants should be attractive when there are no leaves or flowers. In other words, the garden needed to have good bones.

The initial anchor to the border was two antique granite posts at the front corners of the garden. The granite would make the garden feel like New Hampshire and their patina would bring a much needed feeling of maturity to the border. Next, I added five arborvitaes, Thuja 'Emerald Green'. I placed them in a group of three and a group of four in the back of the garden. I then added five Buxus 'Green Mountain' in the front of the border: a group of two on the side of three arborvitae family and a group of three in front of the arborvitae couple. That way, the dark color of the evergreens were evenly distributed in the winter picture. After several years, the arborvitae declined, due to lack of light, and were replaced with three upright yews, Taxus media 'hicksii'. They were planted in a pair and a loner. The boxwoods bulked up quickly and two were removed creating a group of three and a pair. Finally, I added a small Colorado blue spruce, Picea pungens 'Glauca Globosa'. The structure is easy to see in the February, April, November and December photographs above that my good friend, Susan Howard, took for me. They seem to disappear when the perennials begin the leaf out and eventually flower and become blowsy in the fall. I always like the boxwoods to be shorn into tight round balls. That way the fluff in the borders is contrasted and becomes accentuated.

Shrubs also add structure to the garden. The most successful shrub was the Aralia elata 'Aureovariegata' at the far end of the border. It is hard-to-find small tree that has unigue foliage and a muscular winter silhouette. It has been surprisingly happy in its site and has matured into an 8 foot specimen. Rosa rubrifolia, Hydrangea 'Pink Diamond' and the fruit of Viburnum sargentii 'Onondaga' add weight and interest to the winter picture.

Grasses are the final component to the bones of Boccelli Garden. Miscanthus floridulus 'Ginganteus' rises nearly 10 feet and is in the center rear of the border. Its smaller and variegated relative, Miscanthus 'sinensis Silver Shadow' anchors at the right rear corner of the garden. The foliage of the well-named Yucca filamentosa 'Gold Sword' is a feature year-round next the the miniature blue spruce. Finally, the arching blades of Hakenochloa macra 'Alba-striata' add an elegant punctuation to the front of the border.

The January thaw is a perfect time to examine your border and ask yourself if the picture looks interesting in the dead of the winter. Here, in New Hampshire, that is nearly half the life of the garden! Jot down some notes about what you might move or add right now. You will never be able to see those holes in the winter picture once the garden explodes next May.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Spirit: Morning has broken

Last evening, I trekked with two gardening friends to the Trinity Church in Boston to hear Dan Pearson, the influential English landscape designer, talk about spirit. The traffic was dense and sleet was slick on the highway. It seemed like a stupid idea but what a wonderful way to spend a winter evening! Bill and Eileen, two extraordinary gardeners who live off the land like a Nearing and garden like a Lloyd, were delightful companions. We talked garden for four hours nonstop.

Dan's talk was beautiful. It was in support of his new book, Spirit: Garden Inspiration. It is not your usual gardening book. Stephen Orr's NY Times review says that Pearson focuses "his creative eye into something that lies between the introverted style of a diary and and the best, most idiosyncratic aspects of a blog given the permanence between hard covers." Dan invited us to take more time to look. He implored us to create gardens that connected to the power of the landscape in our own unique area; to that spirit of place that gives each place its identity. So this morning I attempted to look more closely around my own environment.

Four mornings a week, I climb Pack Monadnock, a 1.3 mile hike near our town with my hiking buddies. We meet at 6:30 with a mailman's disregard for the weather. Each day has been getting longer and we have been witnessing some stunning sunrises. I took these two pictures this morning. I wanted to capture the scene that is special to New Hampshire: the weather beaten oak trees at the peak of Pack and the view toward Boston we see each morning.

I am starting a wild garden in the lowest terrace in my garden. It has a view of the big brother to Pack, grand Mount Monadnock. I have chosen two evergreens to mimic the black spruce and white pine of the New Hampshire mountains I love so much. I have chosen Picea orientalis 'Gowdy' for its diminutive and elegant habit and small, nearly black needles. Unlike the commonly used Norway spruce, 'Gowdy' will never be too large for my small garden. My other choice, Pinus koraiensis 'Morris Blue', will grow no more than twenty five feet in my lifetime and has handsome bluish silver needles and a tight and sturdy habit. My next mission is to add native and exotic perennials that will create a lush tapestry that will feel like some special wood in New Hampshire that has hidden in it newly discovered treasures that feel entirely at home.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti: Once a Garden Island

On February 17th, I am scheduled to return to Haiti for the fourth time for an eye care mission with the PA VOSH (Volunteer Optometric Service to Humanity). It is impossible to concentrate on seed catalogues and planning for next year's garden today. Haiti is on my mind and in my heart. Haiti is a place of great beauty and extreme cruelty. Long before our Civil War and just 28 years after the birth of this nation, Haiti became the world's first black republic but remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The Haitian people are handsome and proud. They are also impoverished, primitive, hungry and now devastated by a horrific earthquake.

I have experienced Haiti's brutal history first hand. I was in Haiti in 1986 when a coup d'etat ended the nearly 30 year reign of terror of the Duvalier dictatorship. Unfortunately, the last 25 years has not seen any prosperity for the Haitian people. Robert and Nancy Heinl's book Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People could not have been a more appropriate title.

Maggie Steber, a photographer I met in 1986 while in Haiti, recently wrote a moving essay about Haiti . Maggie Steber's NY Times Lens blog essay . Her book, Dancing on Fire; Photographs From Haiti, has some amazing photographs taken after Jean Claude Duvalier fled from Haiti. Two Haitian art books Island on Fire by filmmaker and art collector, Jonathon Demme and Where Art is Joy by Selden Rodman are beautiful compilations of extraordinary Haitian art that give insight into the culture of the Haitian people.

Please consider making a donation NOW to one of the many organizations (I chose the Red Cross) that are bringing aid to Haiti. Thank you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter Interest in the Border

"Winter interest in the border", I said to my two sons Nick, 7 and Teddy, 5 one morning. Now imagine me imitating Dan Aykroyd, using his best Julia Child impression skills, to mimic English gardening doyenne, Penelope Hobhouse saying, "winter interest in the border". Now imagine it with FEELING at the breakfast table. That was the scene at my house the morning after a Horticulture magazine symposium called Mastering the Mixed Border nearly 16 years ago. Mrs. Hobhouse's lecture provided a profound and well-timed lesson in my early gardening education and my two young sons' first garden design memory. It was at that moment that I realized the importance of structure in the garden.
For me, structure includes evergreens, trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses and good old New Hampshire granite. Some of the more useful evergreens in my garden are: Pinus korainesis 'Morris Blue', Picea orientalis 'Gowdy', Buxus 'Green Gem', Juniper scopulotum 'Skyrocket' and Taxus x media 'Hicksii'. Some favorite grasses are: Miscanthus 'Giganteus' and sinensis 'Morning Light', Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' and brachytricha. Additional trees that I haven't mentioned in the previous blog are: the katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, Parrotia persica and the spectacularly branching Aralia elata 'Aureovariegata' and Cornus controversa 'Variegata'.

Last December, the devastating ice storm that southern New Hampshire experienced, provided a stunning and glittering spectacle. Boxwoods, arborvitae and a crabapple tree are put to great advantage with an inch-thick ice coating in the upper level of my garden. Even the brick edging comes to life in the morning sunshine. Many of my gardening friends who experienced tragic losses were still able to appreciate the breathtaking beauty that Mother Nature provided that momentous day.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Their bark is better than their bite (Part 2)

Cercidiphyllum japonicum

January is a great time to think about interesting trees and structure in the garden. When I began making my garden, one of my first objectives was to select trees that would have beautiful characteristics in all four seasons. Gardening in New Hampshire makes the structure of the trees very important because there are no leaves on the trees from October to May.

In 1996, I took a propagation class at the Arnold Arboretum. The instructor, Jack Alexander, led us around the grounds collecting seeds from some of the most beautiful trees that are hardy to New England. One of the trees that he chose was Stewartia psuedocallia. I had six seeds germinate and become viable seedlings. I selected the two plants that seemed the most alike because I intended to plant my two trees symmetrically behind a granite bench in the garden. My trees are now about ten feet tall and are beginning to show fantastic bark that looks like camouflage or perhaps a muscular boa constrictor. When they are placed in front of a dark background the bark is a stunning feature for half the year. They also have camellia-like showy white flowers blooming in early July. Finally, they boast gorgeous autumn foliage with red and orange coloring.

The trifoliate maples, Acer griseum , Acer triflorum and Acer nikonese are all trees that are magnificent features for the winter garden. These maples mature into small trees about 25 feet tall. They have no flowers to speak of but have spectacular red and orange fall foliage. Acer triflorum, is the hardiest of the three and is robust growing in Zone 5. The bark is tan and exfoliates with age. Acer griseum , also known as the paperbark maple, has the most exquisite bark. It has beautiful reddish brown bark that exfoliates in large ribbons. It is slow-growing and takes many years to become an impressive specimen. However, Acer griseum crossed with Acer nikonese, has the unique bark of the paperbark maple with increased vigor. My first experience with the cross was a magnificent specimen along Meadow Road not far from the visitor center at the Arnold Arboretum . Acer griseum x 'Gingerbread' is an excellent hybrid. I finally tracked it down at Twombly Nursery in Monroe, CT. I rented a Uhaul truck and brought a small tree home in 1998. My tree is now over 20 feet tall and lightly shades our terrace.

Heptacodium miconioides, also known as seven sons flower, is a large shrub growing about 15-20 feet tall and is quite hardy. It is a relatively new plant to cultivation. It has white flowers that bloom simultaneously with my sweet autumn clematis vine. After the flowers fade, it has a second "bloom" of reddish purple drupes crowned with showy calyxes which elongate after the flowers bloom. The bark is whitish gray and peels off in long strips.

Cornus officinalis is a little known member of the dogwood family. It is closely related to Cornus mas and has yellow flowers around the time the forsythias bloom in April. The have large red edible fruit in autumn. The tart fruit can be used to make a delicious jelly. My tree is just taking off and I look forward to the year when I will be able to harvest enough berries to make preserves. The bark is considered more handsome than that of Cornus mas. It has a mixture of oranges, grays and browns and slowly exfoliates in small curlicues.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Garden

Copyright Lillian Stokes 2009

This is a photograph taken of my garden from our bedroom window last August. The garden is about a half of an acre and is situated on a hill. It is terraced on three levels. The top level opens up to the street and has a rather hot color scheme. I think of it as a garden designed for the pleasure of the passer by. The middle level is enclosed by a yew hedge and has a grey color theme (it is the garden in Lillian's photograph). It has a view of Mt. Monadnock in the distance and opens out from the terrace and is private. The lower garden is very much a work in progress and will be a "wild garden". It is composed of woodland plants that feel as if they belong in New England but are not necessarily native plants.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Years Resolution

My New Year's Resolution for 2010 is to begin a gardening blog. I have a small garden in the village of Peterborough, NH. I also design public gardens in the parks of my town. I am interested in garden design, unusual plants, nature and art. I hope to share my thoughts, memories, ideas and new discoveries on these subjects in the coming year.


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