The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Editing a Mixed Border: It is All About Scale

The Boccelli Garden is mixed border that is now about 14 years old. It contains a mixture of shrubs, small trees, perennials, biennials, annuals and bulbs. The garden is modeled after the planting style used in many English gardens and in particular the succession planting style used by the late Christopher Lloyd, and continued with great finesse by Fergus Garrett, at Great Dixter. The idea is to have the maximum effect for as long of a season as possible.

The blue spruce in the foreground at the Boccelli garden is a dwarf cultivar called Picea pungens 'Glauca Globosa'. It was planted in 2001 and has been a wonderful textural, as well as color, component to the garden, but after a decade it has grown too large, is out of scale with the planting and is occupying too much space.

I would have never considered removing it until I read a passage from an old Guardian article called Favorite Trees in Lloyd's book Cuttings: A Year in the Garden with Christopher Lloyd. Lloyd talks about his use of the Korean silver fir, Abies koreana, as a mixed border plant. He admires the "upright cones like short purplish candles on top of its horizontal branches" but "when it grows too large for its position" he "starts again with another youngster." He advises to use the top of the old one as a Christmas tree.  Picea pungens 'Glauca Globosa' is too short and stubby to use a s a Christmas tree but if Lloyd gives me his blessing to remove it, I'll give it a try…. but not without some thought….for several years I labored over the decision to take this lovely conifer out of the garden and replace it with a smaller version.

While I was cleaning out the garden this week, I realized how much valuable real estate the blue spruce had taken over and how the surrounding perennials were being crowded out of existence. I also remembered last spring that opportunities to add annuals along the edge of the garden in front of the spruce had slowly vanished over the years.

I walked around the garden as I did my spring duties in the border. I imagined the garden without the spruce or with the spruce replaced with "another youngster" from every angle. Slowly, it became clear to me that this was the year to take action. I started with a few shallow cuts with my hand saw to the trunk and then I got up, reassessed the situation, gathered some courage, laid down in the garden once more and did the deed.

Another shot of the before picture.

It is always shocking when a big change happens in the garden but what I see are the opportunities.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

More on Balls

It snowed this morning. The edges of the garden were perfect and simple. I wonder if I want to disrupt this picture by adding more boxwoods. Today, until the show melts, the answer is not yet…..

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers

While I was in New York to hear fellow blogger Thomas Rainer's talk  "Designing with Native Plants" at the NYBG, I had the opportunity to visit The Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers with some gardening friends. The Untermyer Gardens are a 34 acre public park owned by the city of Yonkers that was once a 150 acre estate overlooking the Hudson River owned by a wealthy lawyer named Samuel Untermyer. Untermyer created one of the most celebrated gardens in the United States during the 1920's and 1930's. When Untermyer died in 1940, the gardens were left unattended until 1946 when the City of Yonkers acquired the parcel. Over the years, the gardens were not maintained and they became overgrown and the structure of the garden became a ruin. Recently, the Yonkers Parks Department with input from Marco Polo Stufano, founding Director of Horticulture at Wave Hill, The Untermyer Gardens are being rehabilitated and open to the public.

The central feature of The Untermyer Gardens is the Walled Garden, which gets its inspiration from the ancient gardens of Indo-Persia. The Walled Garden is divided into quadrants by waterways and was intended to mimic a paradise on earth.


Formal plantings in Persion-Inspired Garden Design

 The Open Air Amphitheater

 The Floor of the empty reflecting pool

Close up of a Sea Horse in the mosaic

The details of this wall were repeated in the wrought iron gate below.

The Vista Steps were inspired by the descending stairs at the Villa D'Este in Italy.

A massive tree branch added a modernistic structure along the Vista Steps.

At the base of the Vista Steps is the Overlook.  The two columns framing the view of the Hudson River and the Palisades are 2,000 year old monolithic Roman cipollino marble columns from the estate of Stanford White.

Columns of the former Rose Garden

A view of the Hudson River

                   The Gatehouse, now an abandoned ruin, and remnants of the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail

Hidden from view of the Walled Garden is a folly called the Temple of Love.

 The Temple of Love was built by a Genoese stone mason named Charles Davite, whose body of work included the Paris Exposition, the St. Louis Exposition and at the Frick Museum.

The Temple of Love's stone work is best viewed from below.

The Temple of Love overlooks a magnificent view of the Hudson River and the Palisades. During the summer months, water courses down the waterfalls into the ponds below. The Untemyer Gardens are very much a romantic ruin. I'm not sure I want them to be brought completely back to their former "perfect" splendor.


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