Friday, May 25, 2012

Rain, rain

Endless rain, seemingly, has everything shooting up at amazing speed, including weeds. Local grasses are in flower, creating a kind of foggy haze over the garden. Once these early grasses turn brown, they'll give it the look of a meadow, and the rapidly emerging perennials will stand out against the tawny background.

Something to look forward to because, frankly, I'm bored by all this.

In the first few years, I thought technique alone--experimenting with a garden in a most inhospitable place, going about it without any soil improvement, relying only on "right plant, right place," and editing out the failures--would be enough, but it isn't. I need more from the garden. The "idea" of sustainability is poor sustenance.

I've been thinking a lot about the importance of emotions in gardens (seeing gardens, making gardens, designing gardens) so it's disquieting to have sunk into this funk. I think the problem may be this:  I need people in my garden, need a conversation, stimulation, insight. In a pinch, a tranquil sunset will do.

But for now, a photo tour, also boring because photos fall far short of the reality of being in the garden.

So ... to list the plants, across the pond, Darmera peltata, Petasites x hybridus, Japanese irises, Carex muskingumensis. The large foliage plants are a prime source of interest (at times, even pleasure) in this early season.

Darmera with Ligularia japonica ...

Across the way, a Cercesis canadensis 'Hearts of Gold' planted last year and in the distance, poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) in flower. It will quickly die and turn an unpleasant brown. Unlink most of the large plants, this one does not retain structural interest, so I'll cut it as soon as seed has matured. There's plenty coming up below it.

Thank goodness for Marc Rosenquist's sculpture. It adds another level of complexity (dare I say meaning?) to the garden. It asks questions, makes me think, suggests metaphors, sparks fantasies of swirling motion (a wheel, a galaxy, the Axle Tree?), raises issues of taste, of aesthetic appropriateness. It reaches outside the garden.

View from the back, looking toward the woodland garden. One of many Filipendula rubra 'Venusta' is just to the right of Marc's sculpture, which has become a place, a reference point. I could even say it links the garden to the rest of the world, to ideas of art, history, culture, the universe.

Bracken, one of my favorite plants, is a legacy plant. It may have been here a century or more. Who could know? It was here before my garden certainly. People give it a bad rap because it tends to spread at the edges. Not nearly as invasive as many other plants, and it moves slowly.

This isn't a pretty picture but you can see the developing L-shaped Hornbeam hedge and the bench it's intended to surround. Someday it will define an end to this corner of the garden, and hide the deer exclusion fence behind.

That hedge, should it ever come to pass, may also become an artifact, like Marc's bronze, that adds to a conceptual appreciation of the garden. I want it to work at multiple levels. In the present, as a visual demarcation of one corner of the garden (with the unavoidable question of what lies beyond), as a spatial device to give an emotional sense of safety and enclosure, and practically, as a screen to hide the deer fence. To anyone with a little knowledge of gardening history, it will also refer to a centuries old garden culture, to the entire history of British gardening, beyond that to Renaissance Italy and even ancient Rome, creating a conversation between those traditions and my naturalistic garden. (On further thought, that's a heavy burden to put on a hedge, but I suppose it can serve as a reminder of the more formal elements of Western gardening tradition.)

Below, the serpentine wall seen from the area of the bench. I need to work on this. The Petasites japonicus is growing over a well drained wastewater leaching field and isn't entirely happy here. The stone wall, as a reflection of the Hornbeam hedge, might itself suggest a more appropriate planting, but one I'm not yet aware of.

A 180 degree turn gives a view across the garden. Siberian irises here will be divided and spread across the field. The ordered row of Thuja occidentalis across the garden has to be seen in the context of the Hornbeam hedge and the stone walls throughout the garden.

I don't mean that there is any specific meaning intended here. But I do enjoy evoking aesthetic and cultural references, and seeing my garden as an embodiment of the historical concept of "garden," of finding a place in garden culture, so that Rome and Rousham hover in the background and are present with me. I can't control what it might be for others.

And then, the garden is simply a place to sit, perhaps alone ...

... or in conversation.

The planting below speaks to the emotional power of images. Years ago I saw a photo of an Oehme van Sweden-designed planting with Miscanthus 'Silberfeder' in the background and mixed Pycnanthemum muticum and Petasites massed at its feet. Though I'm not yet able to define the emotional appeal of that planting, even many years later, I felt it was appropriate for this spot, not least because the environmental conditions were suitable, but also because I loved the shapes of the plants and their effect in combination. It's most effective later in the season, when the Pycnanthemum turns white and the Miscanthus is in bloom.

Perhaps the key to the interest of this planting is its playfulness, with the dramatic contrast of the large, funnel-shaped leaves against the very small ones. But it's also more than playful. It recalls some of the more frightening children's fairy tales. The growth is so vigorous, it's almost threatening. At the least, stimulating in an aggressive way.

Though the bracken is very different, it has much the same aggressive in-your-face effect ...

... like a wave about to wash over you.

The circle of red logs ... merely decorative? Gardens don't speak in sentences, so you have only emotional affect to go on. And of course a long tradition of associations with circles, and with the color red.

A strange planting, some intentional, some not ...

... dominated at the moment by Poison hemlock ... is this for some witch's brew? Is this a Maurice Sendak garden? Perhaps there's something to that connection, a certain outsized, exaggerated quality. More so later in the season when many plants grow much larger than people. Then I've noted some visitors prefer to stay near the house, safely removed, up on the little hill.

Straight lines and curves ...

... forms emerging from the chaos of early summer grasses ...

... box and Bergenia, footed by a sedum found in the wettest part of the garden ...

... and irises.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Imaginary Triangles

The angular fronds of bracken in the foreground evoke triangles throughout the landscape. (LSD ... Lucy in the sky with diamonds.) They carry the eye toward a vanishing point out in the woods.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Bright sun, too bright

Too bright ... for good photos, that is ...

I just can't seem to get to the garden at the right time, so here it is in mid-day golden sunlight, which washes out all detail and most color differentiation. But you can see the flow.

The red Japanese cutleaf maple in the corner above forms a sequence with a large community of Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker' midway out, then another large swath of lysimachia on the far side (not visible here). It's occurred to me I can use the rhythm created by these red dots of color as "gravitational cores" around which I can develop extensive plantings of water irises (Sibirica, Virginica, Versicolor, Ensata) for more color early in the season.

They'll draw the eye to the less easily seen detail. I already have quite a few irises; you can just make out some in photos above and below. A broader distribution in small groupings and individually, with the lysimachia masses to draw attention to them, would be a pleasing addition at this time of year. Siberian irises will work particularly well because their saturated colors have much better definition against the complexity of plant forms, as you can see below. (These four plants have grown quite large and divided into thirds would easily make a dozen ... a good start on iris expansion.)

In contrast, the Iris virginica below looks washed out (the color is pretty to the eye, but disappears when photographed).

The lysimachia communities also serve as reference points, enabling a viewer to better judge relative distance and scale, particularly now when the garden is harder to read, with low, relatively uniform plant height.

Textures and forms can be easily differentiated only up close ... here, Carex muskingumensis with highly reflective leaves of Darmera peltata, and the flatter, matt surface of Petasites visible in the background.

You can just make out the third lysimachia community beyond the chairs.

A sunset shot, when the light is much better, taken with my phone camera. Sometimes fuzzy is good, even looking directly into the sun.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Grounds for Sculpture

I hesitate to call it a garden, but this fascinating mixture of serious sculpture and kitsch makes for an unforgettable outing. I went with friends for my second visit last weekend. I won't comment on the photos (well, maybe a note here and there). You make of it what you can.

Located in Hamilton, New Jersey, it's certainly worth a detour from New York City or Philadelphia if you're visiting in either of those cities.

... George Segal ... in black, not white ...

Le dejeuner sur l'herbe ...

... yes, these are sculptures too ...

... not exactly like the original at MOMA ...

... will they fall?


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