The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wave Hill, the High Line and Wagner Park All in One Day in October

Wave Hill's Flower Garden

Another View of the Flower Garden

The Entrance to the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory

The Wild Garden

The Aquatic and Monocot Garden at Wave Hill

The Gansevoort Woodland on the High Line

The Washington Grasslands

The Diller-Von Furstenberg Sundeck

The Chelsea Grasslands

The 10th Avenue Square

Rhus glabra on the Sundeck

The Hot Border at Wagner Park

Leonotis leonurus and a Bright Orange Cuphea Make Great Companions

Maude, Tovah and Laura Enjoying the Hot Borders

Last Sunday, three gardening friends and I did a fearless day trip from New Hampshire to NYC and back to visit public gardens in the city. We left at 5:45 am and arrived at Wave Hill, the public garden in the Bronx, at about 10 am. The weather threatened but ended up being very cooperative. The view from the Pergola Overlook across the Hudson River to the Palisades was spectacular. We spent a lot time examining the plant combinations in the Flower Garden. We also visited the Wild Garden and the Aquatic and Monocot Gardens before having a nice lunch on the terrace at the Wave Hill House.

Next, we drove down the Henry Hudson Parkway to the High Line, the recently opened New York City Park, in the Meatpacking District in the Lower West Side of Manhattan. The High Line is a park built on an elevated 1930's freight rail structure. The planting design is inspired by the self-seeded volunteer plants that began to establish themselves after the train made its final delivery in 1980. There are more than 200 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees in the park. The garden was designed by Dutch planting designer, Piet Oudolf. Oudolf is world famous for using grasses in his designs and was the perfect man to take on this project. We spent much of our time there analyzing the way in which one perennial or grass slowly interwove into the next forming a very natural looking tapestry.

Our final stop was Wagner Park, the Lynden B. Miller designed public garden in Battery Park City at the very tip of Manhattan. Some of us had never seen the Statue of Liberty which prominently held court in the Upper Bay where the Hudson River flows into the Atlantic Ocean. The lighting could not have been more beautiful. Wagner Park, like all Lynden's gardens, was meticulously maintained. There were two borders with contrasting hot and cool color themes. Our favorite gardens were the hot borders which were ablaze with a stunning combination of Leonotis leonurus paired with a bright orange cuphea.

We were back on the road by about 6 pm and in our beds by 10:45 pm. It very busy and inspiring day that was totally worth the effort.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October View From the Living Room

The Upper Garden

Malus 'Red Jade'

The Lower Garden: Two Stewartias with Peak Foliage

The Right Lower Border

Hydrangea quercifolia Beneath Acer griseum x 'Gingerbread'

Monday, October 25, 2010

Good Combo on a Frosty Morning

Aster novi-belgii 'Porzallan' with Cotinus 'Grace'

Dan Hinkley wrote in the 2004 Heronswood catalogue that Aster novi-belgii 'Porzallan' was his "personal favorite [aster] as this would have any bearing on your selection," which of course it did. I've had mine for six years and it has matured into a handsome three-foot-tall pant with whitish-lavender flowers which look lovely with the lightly frosted leaves of Cotinus 'Grace.'

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Two Hardy and Beautiful Trifoliate Maples

Acer griseum x 'Gingerbread'

Acer triflorum

The trifoliate maples, Acer griseum, Acer mandshuricum, Acer nikoense and Acer triflorum, are refined 20-30 foot tall trees that originate from Japan, China and Korea. They offer varying degrees of exfoliating bark and excellent fall color. Acer triflorum is used as a street tree in my garden and is past peak but some of the bright burnt orange foliage, which rivals the best sugar maples cultivars, remains.

Acer griseum x 'Gingerbread' is a cross of the best known trifoliate, Acer griseum, and the less common Acer nikoense. It is the last of this family of trees to color. It will peak in a week or so and will climax with a pronounced russet-red color. 'Gingerbread' has the increased vigor of a hybrid. It is a much faster growing tree than Acer griseum and is a full zone hardier to Zone 4. I have used 'Gingerbread' as a patio tree near the terrace. Even after I planted the 10 foot tall gangly sapling in 1998, the terrace was compltely sunny. Now, twelve years later, the ugly duckling has turned into an elegant swan, and I have to limit the plants on most of the terrace to shade/part shade lovers.

I chose the trifoliate trees for their scale (they will never become too large for my small garden) and their distinctive characteristics which feel entirely at home in New Hampshire. The orange and red foliage are indistinguishable from the autumn hues of the red and sugar maples that are so common here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our Public/Private Partnership Part 1

Bob Wilder with volunteers Molly B, Maude and Laura

The gardens in parks in Peterborough would be impossible without the public/private partnership we have forged in the last dozen years. One of the key players in that partnership is Bob Wilder. Bob works in the Building and Grounds Department of the Public Works of the Town of Peterborough.

Bob has wheelbarrow with rakes, shovels and brooms waiting for the volunteers at the Pavilion Garden every Wednesday morning at 7 AM from April through October. At the end of workday, he picks up our piles of weeds and clippings and takes them to the Recycling Center to be composted. He waters all the planters and cleans the trash and any graffiti on the parks buildings daily. One of Bob's big jobs this year was watering the newly installed rain gardens and trees at Putnam Park and Teixeira Park. Due to the severe drought this year, that was a daunting task. Essentially, there is no task that Bob will not happily take on for betterment of the gardens in the parks of Peterborough.

The Parks Committee often takes the credit for the beautiful gardens in the parks of our town but the behind-the-scenes dedication of Bob Wilder is a vital component to our success. Thanks Bob for your endless commitment to our cause. It could not be done without you!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Ruin Garden when Leaf Peepers Peep

The Leaf Peepers are back. Swarms of the them in town this past weekend. I went for a quiet hike up North Pack Monadnock, a small 2183 footer near town, on Sunday morning. I arrived at the trail head at the same moment as a group of dozen or so Japanese tourists unloaded from their cars. I had forgotten how busy the first half of October can get in New Hampshire.

I took these pictures of the Ruin Garden at Teixeira Park on my way out of town for my hike. The granite blocks of the garden wall contrast dramatically against the foliage of the trees on the other side of the Nubanusit River while the flower heads of Calamagrostis brachytricha wave elegantly in the breeze. The seed heads of all the composite flowers: the echinaceas, rudbeckias and heleniums are finally beginning to attract the birds we were hoping for.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Design Marries Horticulture

Frederic H. Gordon and Patricia Scanlan on their wedding day, October 6, 1951

Today is the 59th anniversary of my parents wedding. My father, known as Ted, would have been 91 and my mother, nicknamed Trish, would have been 82. Coincidentally, they both died at the age of 80. My father was an architect who served in WWII and my mother was a homemaker who raised four children and began working as a bookkeeper in the mid-1970's. My parents owned three houses during their lives together. The first house, was small starter house in a Levittown-like postwar neighborhood. When I was five, we moved to a much larger new house in a prosperous suburban neighborhood. Finally, when I was in college, they downsized to a modest house with a small lot on a busy street.

Each house had gardens. The bigger the house, more complex the gardens. The second house, on a street called Line Road, was the house I grew up in. It was the house that both of my parents put their heart and soul into. As soon as they bought the place, my father installed a brick walkway to the front door and my mother shipped in many truckloads of loam to make a proper lawn and began to plant trees, shrubs and gardens. My younger sister and I were too little to be of much help so my older brothers were the main laborers.

My father's brick entrance pathway was not an easy assignment. He chose a herringbone pattern with a single longitudinal course of bricks on each edge. The path had a gracious curve which made cutting the bricks very difficult. There were endless odd-shaped triangles to manufacture and my father bought a special saw for that purpose. He also built a brick patio attached to the rear of the house. It was also well-constructed and had less complicated basket weave pattern. It was quite large, probably 30 feet by 25 feet and most of it was covered by a dark green canvas awning.

Ted Gordon was a man who did things well. Looking back, I realize that my father set a excellent example of good design and quality of workmanship. The paths and patio were well made and he used quality materials. The path had a nice curve with a generous width. It was a very inviting entrance to the house and it felt appropriate to the cedar shingled Garrison house. The patio was extensive and served as a gracious outdoor living space.

My mother was the gardener. She was the one that got me in the dirt. She was a strong and powerful woman and she had stamina. She was very ambitious and always had several projects going on simultaneously. She might be painting the house, reupholstering wicker furniture, starting a new vegetable garden all at the same time. It was not uncommon for her to be working on a project until past 11 o'clock in the evening.

Trish Gordon was a very hard worker but she had so many projects going it often became difficult to keep up. Around mid-July, it was finally time to weed all the gardens. So the children were sent out to weed. The weeds were easy to see because by that time they were gigantic; three-foot-tall rag weed plants were common and the root balls were enormous. It was an overwhelming task for us kids and I think that is why my siblings are not gardeners. But once I got my hands in then soil, I was hooked. Hooked for the long haul.

When I was in junior high school, we did a unit on native wildflowers. In those days, we were encouraged to go into the woods and collect plants. I harvested bloodroot, mayapples and jack-in-the-pulpits in the woods near my house and I began my own little wildflower garden. I added a mountain laurel and violets, but I didn't want the easy to find purple violets. I scoured for the rarer yellow and white ones. I became a plant hunter and collector of unusual woodland plants. One of my mother's favorite stories was how, whenever we were on a trip when I was a child, I would demand that she stop the car, so I could dig up some unusual roadside plant .

As I mature and reflect on my life as a gardener, I realize I needed both my parents skills in order to create a first rate garden. I have inherited my father's architect's brain. I can visualize space in my mind. I can see how hedges and walls will create garden rooms and organize space. I can see how paths can lead and navigate the visitor through the garden. I have a good grasp of scale and proportion. I know how to create the bones of the garden. That I got from my father.

My mother gave me my appreciation of beauty and my love of plants. She taught me how to nurture things. She introduced me to common plants and encouraged me to search for the rare and unusual ones. She gave me my work ethic and showed me the importance of maintenance. I know how to take care of plants and treasure their beauty. I got that from my mother.

Exceptional gardens need to marry skillful design with brilliant horticulture. For me, that marriage took place fifty-nine years ago.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Mixed Border in Early October

Aster 'Liitle Carlow' and the ornamental grass Calamagrostis brachytricha have a simultaneous peak. The yellow foliage of Ligustrum sinense 'Variegata' and the claret foliage of Hibiscus acetosella "Maple Sugar' have contrasted well the entire season. Dahlia 'Ellen Houston', a purple gomphrena, Salvia 'Indigo Spires' and Cuphea 'Bat Face' complete the picture. This is the denouement of the mixed border. The moment when the annuals, shrubs and perennials and ornamental grasses climax before the first frost.

This past week the most admired plant has been Calamagrostis brachytricha, a Piet Ouldolf staple. It is hardy to Zone 4 and has pink-toned feathery flower heads beginning the last week of September that last throughout the winter. It has a tendency to politely self-seed here in New Hampshire but it easy to weed out the seedlings. A gardening friend, who has just acquired the plant, is planning to use the flowers for arrangements in the house which will provide the added bonus of not having to worry about unwanted progeny.

My personal favorite in the mixed border is Cuphea 'Bat Face'. It is an excellent front-of-the-border and container plant. It flowers continuously throughout the season without requiring deadheading. When examined closely, the purple and carmine flowers do in fact look like a bat's face. To top it all off, these hues mix well with a variety of colors in the border or container.


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