The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

National Gallery Sculpture Garden In April

Graft, 2009. Roxy Paine. Gleditsia triancanthos inermis 'Halka' over patio.

Spider, 1996. Louise Bourgeois. Hydrangea quercifolia in foreground.

Cheval Rouge, 1974. Alexander Calder. Tilia cordata 'Greenspire' hedge above left.

Four-Sided Pyramid, 1999. Sol LeWitt. Cladrastis lutea to the left.

House I, 1996/1998. Roy Lichtenstein. Styrax obassia in bloom.

Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, 1999. Claes Oldenburg.

Personage Gothique, Oiseau-Eclair, 1974. Joan Mira. Ulmus americana behind.

On Saturday morning, we were on our way to the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, when we passed the Gallery's sculpture Garden on Constitution Avenue on the Mall. Our interest was immediately peaked. The Sculpture Garden is a 6.1 acre outdoor gallery/ arboretum. It has 18 modern and contemporary artworks set in a landscape designed with extraordinary perennials, ground covers, shrubs and trees. It was the perfect contrast to Dumbarton Oaks the day before.

Many of the same trees were growing in both gardens but planted in very different but ways with one exception. Both gardens had a circular pool enclosed by clipped standard hedges. In Dumbarton Oaks' garden, the hedge forms an ellipse of American hornbeam, Carpinus carolina. The Sculpture Garden, on the other hand, has lindens, Tilia cordata 'Greenspire', clipped in a round wall around the pool.

My favorite sculpture was also the most recently installed piece called Graft by Roxy Paine. It is made of shiny stainless steel and is very angular. It reminds me of a photograph I once saw of of British photographer, Andrew Lawson's garden. Apparently a tree, a cherry I think, had unexpectedly died. Rather than removing the tree, he painted it bright blue and it became garden sculpture for several seasons until it finally rotted and was removed.

The Sculpture Garden renews my interest in having some sort of sculpture in my own garden. I think I will take a cue from Dumbarton Oaks and have it be the focal point on one of the axes in my garden. However, I am inclined to have the sculpture be more contemporary, perhaps made of discarded granite and iron that I have collected over the years. That solution allows me to honor the age and formal design of my garden without being predictable or use mass-produced objects that have no heart.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dumbarton Oaks in April

Bridge in Dumbarton Oaks Park

Stairway to Main Garden and Forsythia Dell in Dumbarton Oaks Park

Main Entrance to House at Dumbarton Oaks

Ancient Katsura Tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, on the East Lawn

Magnificent American Beech Tree, Fagus grandifolia, on the Beech Terrace

Fountain Terrace in Bloom

The Plum Walk: Prunus x blireana, underplanted with epimediums

Tulips in the Double Herbaceous Borders

Steps Exiting the Herbaceous Borders to the Orchard

My wife, Betsy (a third grade teacher), and I visited Washington, DC this past weekend during the spring break. It was wonderful to experience the warm weather a few weeks early. I was surprised to see some of the daffodils and all the tulips in bloom. NH must be ahead and DC behind schedule this year.

We walked up Massachusetts Avenue to visit Dumbarton Oaks, Beatrix Farrand's (1872- 1959) masterpiece in Georgetown. We got lost for a moment and found ourselves going down a wooded pathway near the British Embassy. As it turned out, we were in Dumbarton Oaks Park, a 27 acre parcel that the owners, Robert and Mildred Bliss, donated to the US government to be managed by the National Park Service in 1940.

Farrand worked closely with Mrs. Bliss from 1921 to 1947 to create a garden of great beauty that, like a fine wine, only improved with age. It has informal sections that are naturalized landscapes of streams, woodlands and meadows. It also has very formal terraced rooms, each with an individual character. She designed the rooms to be connected by a series of paths, many with focal points and axes.

One of the most remarkable components of Dumbarton Oaks are the trees. Many of the trees are nearly a century old and are truly majestic. It makes me have a much greater appreciation for heritage trees thoughtfully planted and placed so they can be displayed to their best advantage when they come into maturity dozens of years in the future.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Peterborough Chairs are Out; It Must be Spring!

The first use of the Peterborough Chair this Season

The Wave Hill Chair

The Peterborough Chair

Wave Hill has its own Adirondack chair so why shouldn't Peterborough? About ten years ago, I designed a signature Adirondack chair for the parks of Peterborough. They are custom made to our specifications by Scott Masi of York, Maine I wanted a large chair with an arm rest wide enough to hold your lunch. They are very comfortable, well built and feel like they belong in New England.

Bob Wilder, who works for the town, takes the chairs out of storage each spring and today was the day! I asked if I could take a picture of the first person I noticed using the chairs. The woman, named Nancy, happily obliged and I got a quick shot in Putnam Park. She told me she is new in town and would love to volunteer in the parks! Hopefully I will see her next Wednesday morning for our next volunteer gardening session.

Spring Bulbs Perform Double Duty

4.17.10 Narcissus 'Falconet' and Muscari latifolium at Peter's Gate in Full Bloom

3.27.10 Bulbs Planted Last October Sleeping in the Compost Pile

3.27.10 Bulbs with Yellow Foliage Revealed Waiting for Sunlight

4.3.10 Foliage Greened Up

4.7.10 Narcissus 'Sweetness' in the Window Boxes at my House

4.7.10 Daffodils and Grape Hyacinths Freshly Planted at Peter's Gate

4.17.10 N. 'Sweetness' doing their thing

4.17.10 My office planters: N. "Sweetness' and Hyacinthus orientalis 'Miss Saigon'

4.21.10 Narcissus 'Fortissimo' blooming from 2008 Planters in the Ruin Garden

For about 10 years, I have been planting spring bulbs in pots and planters and giving them a second life in the garden. The secret is to trick the bulbs into thinking they are in the ground the first year. If bulbs are planted in a window box or planter in the fall, they can not tolerate the change in temperature and will fail but if they are planted in your compost pile and then transferred to a window box they will flourish.

Daffodils , grape hyacinths and hyacinths are good candidates. Tulips do not work well because they are vulnerable to rodents. I like to choose daffodils that are fragrant and are good perennializers. N. 'Falconet', 'Geranium' and 'Sweetness' are good examples. N. 'Kendron', 'Thalia' and 'Stint' are long lasting in the garden but don't have as effective a fragrance. Larger daffodils that have forced successfully are N. 'Serola', 'Ceylon' and 'Fortissimo'.

A favorite grape hyacinth is Muscari latifolium. I like it because it is two-toned: having light blue florets on the top and dark violet below on each stem. Hyacinths add another color and texture with the added bonus of a heavy sweet fragrance. H. 'Peter Stuyvesant' is a lovely dark blue and H. 'Miss Saigon' is a very nice pink violet color. We tried H. 'Chestnut Flower' two years ago and we all agreed it was a putrid pink color that not a single volunteer wanted to take home to plant in their own garden!

Bulbs in planters and window boxes may seem like an extravagance but when selected and planted properly, they can also be long-lived perennials in your garden. Another advantage to this scenario is that when the bulbs are placed in the garden in early June, the holes in your planting are obvious (rather than trying to remember where they are in late October) and one can come up with the best combinations possible.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Teixeira Park gets a New Path and Putnam Park gets a Rain Garden

Foundation for Path in Teixeira Park

Path Follows the Nubanusit River Beyond; Ruin Garden to the Right

Ruin Garden will be Connected to the Path

"Flintstone's" Picnic Area

Tree work at Putnam Park

Site of New Rain Garden

Site of the New Entrance Garden in Putnam Park

Two of the Peterborough Parks are undergoing projects this year. Both projects involve rain gardens. Rain gardens are a new concept to collect storm water and channel it into a garden that will decrease the amount of storm water that is lost to the public drainage system. Rain gardens combine environmental benefits with aesthetically pleasing plantings.

Teixeira Park is having a new pathway installed made of a permeable hard pavement that will allow water to flow through it. The pathway will loop from the sidewalk in West Peterborough. At each end of the path there will be a rain garden that will collect storm water from the street. It will be planted with plants, many of them natives, that can tolerate extremely wet conditions with periods of intermittent dry conditions. The path will connect to the Ruin Garden and a granite picnic table I like to call the "Flintstone's" table. Stone artist, Ron Higgins designed the picnic table and two benches out of huge pieces of granite. Teixeira Park was designed to have a wild theme. It has rustic granite benches throughout the park and is planted the trees, shrubs and perennials that are attractive to wildlife, particularly birds and butterflies.

The renovation of Teixeira Park is part of a larger project to revitalize West Peterorbough. New sidewalks and streetlights have been added to make that part of town much more pedestrian friendly. The project is funded by the West Peterborough TIF. A TIF is a Tax Increment Financing Plan where any additional taxes produced by new development will be put in a fund to be used to revitalize a certain section of a town. The West Peterborough TIF will be used to improve the physical infrastructure and the visual appearance of West Peterborough. They held a series of meetings with the West Peterborough TIF and members of the community and developed a plan with input from all the concerned parties.

Putnam Park will also have a new rain garden to capture run off from an abutting parking lot that has been eroding the path in the park during heavy rain storms. Our Public Works Director, Rodney Bartlett, suggested a rain garden as a solution and obtained a grant to fund the project. The park also had some tree work done to repair damage to a beautiful Pine Oak , Quercus palustris, caused by the devastating ice storm of December, 2008. Several large white and red pine trees were also removed because they were dangerous and had lost large limbs during the ice storm. We will be planting a new garden near the entrance of Putnam Park where the large pines once stood to buffer the park from the parking lot.

I will be following the progress both of these projects on my blog. If you interested in more information about rain gardens, Nigel Dunnett and Andy Clayden have written an excellent resource called, oddly enough, Rain Gardens.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Early Magnolia Season in the Elliotts' Garden

The Entrance to Bill and Eileen Elliott's Garden

Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel'

The Newly Formalized Vegetable Garden

Plant Labels: Discarded Flatware from the Recycling Center

The New Lutyens Bench Border

The Compost Pile

A Woodland treasure: Hepatica nobilis

In a normal year, late-April is the beginning of the magnolia season in Bill and Eileen Elliott's garden. This year is different (every year is different for a gardener) and the season has begun about two weeks earlier than usual. So this morning, I drove with my friend Susan to the Elliott's garden in the rural village of Hancock. You see, the magnolia I helped Susan plant in her garden several years ago isn't doing so great and she may need a replacement. I thought the Elliott's garden would be the ideal place for Susan to see how well various varieties of magnolias fared in New Hampshire.

I met the Elliotts in 1997 in Joanna Reed's garden in Malvern, PA. They, like me, had traveled from New Hampshire to visit Joanna's garden. Joanna was a superb plantswoman and had a garden chalk full of unique and interesting plants from all over the world. Joanna, a former president of the Herb Society of America, also studied at the Barnes Foundation Arboretum and was well know as an expert in woody shrubs and trees. Joanna, in her late 70's at the time, was leading several visitors around her garden and I struck a conversation with an interesting couple who were also fascinated by Joanna and her garden. As it turned out, they were from nearby Hancock, New Hampshire and were keen gardeners with a special interest in woody plants. One of trees that I saw in flower for the first time is a favorite magnolia of Eileen's, Magnolia sieboldii. In New Hampshire, Magnolia sieboldii blooms in late May. It has white cupped flowers with a delightful citrusy fragrance and 2 inch long carmine fruit which are a garden feature in August and September.

When we arrived at the Elliotts' garden, you could see the Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' from the street. It is a cross cross of M. kobus and M. stellata. It has fuscia-pink flowers and is hardy to Zone 4. The Elliotts also have the cross 'Merrill', an Arnold Arboretum introduction with magnificent white flowers. They have several of 'The little Girl Hybrids' in bud, ready to flower in the next week ot two. The hybrids are a cross of M. lilliflora 'Nigra' and M. stellata 'Rosea' and are all shrubby growers with reddish purple flowers. The have girl's names, 'Ann', 'Betty', 'Jane', 'Judy', Ricki' and 'Susan'. They were selected for a slightly later blooming time in an effort to avoid the frost damage of M. stellata. Later in the season, the yellow flowering magnolias will be followed by M. sieboldii. Bill mentioned they also planted a bigleaf magnolia, M. macrophylla, I believe, which is not fully hardy in Zone 5 and has never flowered for them.

The Elliotts live off the grid, without electricity. They were early followers of Helen and Scott Nearing and share their philosophy of living off the land. The grow their own food in a large vegetable garden. Eileen had just planted some of the seeds and showed me her new labeling system: old knives they reclaimed from the recycling center. In the last several years, they have been adding formal elements to the vegetable garden and new paths paved with granite cobblestones.

Somehow they have also found the time to have a large ornamental garden with all kinds of unusual and hard to find trees, shrubs and perennials. Any plant that has any unique and garden-worthy characteristics that are hardy in Zone 5 are sure to be somewhere in their garden. While I was there, I spied an especially beautiful hepatica with red foliage and light purple flowers blooming in their woodland garden.

In the next several weeks, I hope tho visit the Elliotts' garden to follow the progression of magnolias. I will also have the opportunity to find plants with simultaneous blooming times that I can use as companions to magnolias or to place as a much needed contributor to the early spring gardening picture in my own garden or the public gardens in the Peterborough Parks.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Good Combo in the Hall with Balls

Cornus officinalis and Chionodoxa sardensis are the perfect companions in the April garden. Cornus officinalis is a close relative to Cornus mas which has showier exfoliating bark and flowers about a week earlier. I have planted it in front of a yew hedge and Pinus koraiensis 'Morris Blue' to accentuate both the bark and spring flowering. Chionodxa sardensis forms a bright bluish carpet which faultlessly compliments this extraordinary dogwood.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Borrowed and Stolen: No such thing as an Original Gardening Idea in Depot Park

The Pavilion Garden entrance to Depot Park
with the Contoocook River behind
Undulating Hedges at the Pavilion Garden

Hedges at Depot Park

Long View of Yew Hedges

Last year's Mess: Baptisia australis

Laura making way for Chionodoxa luciliae

Molly working along the Hoop Fencing

I don't think I have done anything original in my gardens, public or private. I have stolen, or does it sound better borrowed, from many gardens that I have visited in person or read about. My gardens are an amalgamation of so many better gardens.
Usually the gardening volunteers meet on Wednesday mornings at 7 AM to work on the public gardens. However, this week the temperature was getting warm very quickly and we needed to clean up the borders before the minor bulbs emerged and were crushed by our gardening boots. So we gathered on Saturday morning for a few hours of clean up.

The borders at the Pavilion Garden at Depot Park (you can get a look at the garden during the growing season on the slide show on the sidebar) are enclosed by a low yew hedge and edged with a iron hoop fence. Depot Park was designed by Vermont garden designer and writer, Gordon Hayward, in the late 1990's. At that time, there was no pavilion, just two rows of yew hedges forming an entrance to the park. Hayward also placed yew hedges at the other end of the park at the confluence of the Contoocook and Nubanusit Rivers.

When the yew hedges were young, a friend commented that they looked like soldiers marching in a long line. At first, I objected to the idea , but after some thought, I understood the criticism. I spent some time trying to think of a way to make the hedges more interesting and appealing and I came up with a solution while reading Paige Dickey's book Breaking Ground. Dickey had a chapter on Piet Oudolf's garden, Hummelo, in the Netherlands. In one now famous section, there is a series of rows of yew hedges that are clipped like waves. Each trough of a wave is aligned with crest of a wave behind it creating movement for the eye to follow. So we began shaping the waves in the hedges at Depot Park and after several years the effect was accomplished.

One of the main problems we encountered in the Pavilion Garden was that people and their dogs often walked into the plantings along the pathway. We needed to train them to keep on the path in an attractive but gently assertive way. In public plantings throughout Manhattan, there is low (about 12-18 inches tall) iron hoop fencing that protect the gardens. I wrote a grant and procured the funding for custom-made iron hoop fences at the entrance garden at the pavilion. They were a large expense, but should last many, many years with little care.

Another idea that I stole for Depot Park was planting Chionodoxa in mass under the shrubbery. The woodland garden at Wave Hill has masses and masses of Chionodoxa sardensis that have naturalized to create a bright bluish purple carpet in the woodland garden. So we did the same thing with Chionodoxa luciliae and have created an similarly spectacular effect for the spring garden.

Gardening, like all the arts, is built on a foundation of the past. If you have an understanding of gardening history, you can make informed decisions in your own garden. It is rare moment when there is a truly original shift in gardening design and I know that I will never come up with anything new in my gardens. What I can try to do is to learn from other gardens and use, but not copy verbatim, what I have learned. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I try to flatter the very best.


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