The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Gleditsia triacanthos 'Ruby Lace' in the Upper Garden

Another plant bought at the same time in Boccelli Garden

Every year, I think the Gleditsia triacanthos 'Ruby Lace' in my upper border is dead. I pollarded this small tree in April, and July 4th weekend is upon us and it still hasn't leafed out! What is even more curious is that I have another tree, bought at the same time from Gossler Farm Nursery, planted in the Boccelli Garden and it has new branches nearly a foot long already.

I first saw this tree used as a cut-back plant in a mixed border at Wave Hill. It's beautiful bronzy-red foliage was a show-stopper and it's frothy texture is the perfect foil for the other plants in the Flower Garden. Mine usually puts on 3-4 feet of growth in a year and looks fresh and healthy in the garden until frost.

I examined my plant in the upper garden carefully this morning and I see new plump buds promising to sprout. It is always about the time that I am threatening to replace it that it finally comes to life. If anyone has an explanation, let me know for I am truly puzzled. Hopefully, I will be posting and boasting about this extraordinary plant in my upper border in September!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Opus at Sakonnet

Ed Bowen, owner of Opus, contemplating just the right plant for his customer

Connoisseur plants looking for a home

Ed's delightful wife, Ivy, is often on hand

When I am at a plant sale, like I was last weekend at the Sakonnet Symposium in RI, I have to suppress the urge to use my, admittedly quite large 6' 3", body to it fullest advantage to get at the plants I am most interested in. Long arms are always an asset but it is really bad form to knock over a little old lady to get to the Arundo donax 'Golden Chain' so I behave myself.

One of the nurseries with plants for sale last Saturday was Opus, Ed Bowen's self-descibed " deliberately small nano-nursery." I first met Ed about a decade ago when he worked at the now defunct Conway's Nursery in Tiverton, RI. It didn't take long to see that Ed is a true plantsman. He knows his plants and he knows how to make them happy. After Conway's closed, Ed opened his own nursery named Opus specializing in "under-cultivated, garden worthy and unusual perennials."

Ed is open by appointment only but it is probably easiest to see what plants he has to offer at one of the half a dozen symposiums or gardening events that he frequents each year. Ed is extremely knowledgable and he couldn't be a nicer guy. The plant I was most excited about was Centaurea benoistii. Centaurea benoistii has excellent silver grey folliage with knobby maroon colored flower heads. It likes well-drained soil and I am hoping it will be happy in my upper border. Check Ed's website for more details about where you can find him next and his very intriguing plant list.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Express Yourself

The Main Axis of Sakonnet Garden

An Acer griseum grove smolders in the backlit Orange Room

The grey foliage of Scot's thistle, Onopordum acanthium, in the Silver Meadow

The Red Pavilion from Old Delhi in the Tropical Quadrant

The bold foliage of Petasites through the Meconopsis Ditch into the Central Lawn

View from the Cental Lawn into the Dog Pen

A pine limbed up by Mikel

More Architectural Limbing

Small Sculpture on a Pedestal near the House

View from the Meadow through a Holly Topiary Entrance to the House

The Path in the Wild Wet Meadow

Saturday I spent the day at a symposium called Lofty Aspirations of Down-to-Earth Gardeners hosted by Sakonnet Garden and Wildmeadows (SG&W) in Little Compton, RI. SG&W is the magical garden of John Gwynne and Mikel Folcarelli which has been a collaboration in the works for thirty years. This is their first day-long symposium. You knew that they were serious when the invited Fergus Garrett, the head gardener at Great Dixter and Marco Polo Stufano, the now retired horticulturalist who created the gardens at Wave Hill in the Bronx, to be the guest speakers. To top it all off, add Dominique Browning, the former editor of House and Garden, as a moderator and you have created a splendid day for conversations about "gardening as an inspiring art form."

Marco Polo Stufano stressed the importance of structural plants to create form and, when properly placed, how they can help pull the design of a garden together. As an Italian, he affirmed that he "loved things touched by the hand of man." Fergus Garrett talked about how gardening gave him the sense of freedom to express his thoughts and to be creative. He encouraged the audience to be more willing to be experiment while gardening. At Great Dixter he is carrying on Christopher Lloyd's legacy by keeping the garden the same, that is to say, to keep it vibrant through revision, refinement and change.

Fergus immediately noticed how John and Mikel are having fun in their garden. After the symposium, we were invited to tour the garden which is contained within a wall of hedges and fences and is separated and hidden from the house. It is divided into a series of rooms each reflecting "the owner’s ongoing experiments with lighting, space, color mixing, collecting and growing wonderful plants."

I went away feeling a renewed freedom to continue to express myself in my own garden through, as Fergus stated, style, atmosphere and personality. And, thanks to John and Mikel, I won't forget to have it be fun.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


The granite post focal point to the woodland garden has become enticing now that Actinidia kolomitka, the lovely pink and white variegated kiwi vine, has clambered over the archway.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Magnolia Sieboldii, I've Been Waiting for You

I first encountered Magnolia sieboldii in Joanna Reed's Malvern, PA garden in early May, 1997. My journal notes how beautiful the flower was but failed to describe their sublime citrus fragrance. This small tree or large shrub blooms sporadically throughout the summer and the bright orangish-red seeds produce a vibrant show well through September.

Last year, we had a late frost that damaged nearly all the leaves and flower buds so it had been two years since I enjoyed the show. As we sat at the dinner table last evening, a light breeze brought in wafts of sweet perfume. It was worth the wait.


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