Thursday, January 19, 2012

The 'New American Garden', last part

So here's the plan.

My rock garden (rockery) will be a rocky outcrop among the trees. 

My border will be a sunny hillside clearing in the woods.

My fern garden will be a shady grove, with narrow winding paths and Spring wildflowers among the trees.

My bog and pond gardens will be the Marsh edge.

The rest of my 'garden' will be native plants spread along trails through mixed woods.

I used to worry about how to manage the change from a worked garden to a natural area, but now I will think about every planting area as being part of the surrounding woods. I will make my garden fit into the existing natural landscape.

Interestingly, it'll be a garden with no edges.

The 'New American Garden', part 2


Now you're thinking, 'what about my garden, my rock garden, my pool garden, my Fall Border....'?
'The designed landscape should fit into the natural landscape.' Does this mean I can't have a rock garden if I live in an area the scientists call the 'Eastern Transitional Mixed Forest Region'?

No, I don't think it means that. I do think, though, that you should carefully consider whether your design might not be more successful, as a design, if you make it fit into the type of landscape natural for your area.

For example, my garden is in the woods, on a rocky ridge. It is situated on the Canadian Shield and is considered to be in the Eastern Transitional etc. etc. I could, if I had enough loose money, bring in a large bulldozer and have it flatten me a nice space, say 200 feet square. I could have topsoil brought in and spread, and I could have hedges planted all around it. Then I could make borders and beds inside the hedged area and make, if I had enough money, a mini-Sissinghurst. Just imagine that for a minute. If you were to come and visit, you'd drive through the Eastern Ontario mixed farming belt, then drive through a mixed forest, then stop at a tall green hedge. You'd go inside and find.... an English garden. But wouldn't this be silly? It might be a fun novelty, but in the end, wouldn't you step back and think, this is silly?

It makes more sense for me to try to incorporate the garden elements I want, such as a rock garden or Fall border, into the existing landscape. No hedges making 'garden rooms', which I have always thought only make sense in totally urban gardens, no straight borders with precise edges ditto, no ornate Italian garden seats. Instead, my rock garden, really more a rockery, sprawls over the natural granite and limestone outcroppings and blends into the woods. My so-called border, really a hillside, climbs in crooked terraces up into the surrounding trees. The only fairly formal area is the little herb garden between the house and the Studio and you know how formal herbs are....

I'm not saying my garden is a great success along these lines, but I think I know what I'm aiming for, and more or less how to proceed.

Actually, maybe I am having some success already. I think I've told this story before, but it's a favourite: one summer a customer and her husband came to the Studio to pick up some pottery. As they were leaving, walking down the path through the herb garden, they stopped and she told me about the husband's garden. I made suitable impressed sounds. Then she glanced around and said to me, 'Do you have a garden, dear?' Now that I think about it, that's a pretty good compliment!

The 'New American Garden', part 1

Wolfgang Oehme died last fall. Those of you who read about gardens or the art of landscaping will have run across his books, or at least mentions of them. In an article about him which I have just read, he and his partner James van Sweden, are referred to as having 'redefined the American Garden'. In obituaries and book reviews, this phrase keeps popping up.

In most cases, this 'new American Garden' is illustrated with pictures of large expanses of waving grasses. Every thing I've read about this lately concentrates on this use of grasses, and nowhere do I see a mention of what I think is really a larger lesson to be taken from their work.

Yes, they (I will say 'they, because Oehme worked with van Sweden for decades, and it is their work together that is usually referred to) did create a new garden model, one that is a welcome addition to the British model of the velvety green grass lawn surrounded by a perennial flower border surrounded by a tall green hedge. As we see it in books or pictures, it involves large expanses of waving grasses set off, often, by quite strict and rigidly controlled hard-scaping.  It is a garden model based on a cross between the natural North American prairie and the Atlantic ocean beach, and as such is indeed new.

But designing a garden is not the same as designing a landscape. What the obituaries and reviews seem to miss is that while Oehme/van Sweden did invent a new garden model, their real achievement was in then using it in their projects as a brilliant way of making the designed landscape part of the natural landscape.

To put it another way, what was new about their idea is not that it uses grasses, or that it resembles the prairie/beach. What was new is that they designed gardens to be part of the surrounding landscape. If you think of other garden styles, such as the Italian style with it's sculptures and cypresses, the French style with it's rigidly pruned shrubs, the Eastern enclosed garden, the Oriental garden.... these are all gardens in, but separated from, their surrounding landscape. Their whole point is to be comfortable, safe, prestigious spaces removed from the surrounding wild landscape. Oehme/van Sweden gardens, most of which happen to be in the mid-atlantic states, are not separate from the landscape. They are in fact a concentration of the elements of  the surrounding landscape and so lead directly into it and become part of it.

That is, I think, the real lesson landscapers should take from Oehme and van Sweden's work. The designed landscape should fit into the natural landscape. Where woodlands are the natural native condition, there should be woodland gardens. In the desert areas, xeric gardens. In small inner-city backyards, old-style English flower borders. 

(More soon....)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Turning Over....

.... a new leaf.

I hereby resolve that, in 2012, I will:

1. Repot that agave. It is so crowded in it's pot that it is starting to climb out! It being winter, the pot is inside right beside Loyal Husband's chair, and he is started to edge away....

2. Get rid of the mealy bugs on the hoyas. More about this later.

3. Make a habit of keeping my garden tools in one place. Better yet, putting them away now and then. Last year I spent 3 weeks wondering where my crowbar was.... then discovered it was standing up in the ground among my bird feeders so I wasn't seeing it because it looked like just another bird feeder pole.

4. Do something about the Clivias. I do not need 27 pots of the same Clivia.

5. Make myself a bird bath. I make them for other people, I should have one too. What self-respecting potter doesn't have a bird bath????

6. Give Lis's Trowel a chance to talk. I kept him pretty well smothered last year, but I guess he's due a turn.

7. Win the war with the garden hoses. I bought cheap hoses, then used those handy repair kits to repair them when they split/developed pinholes/lost their ends/developed unfixable kinks. What I put away this fall was a gawdawful mess of kinks, short bits, hoses with duct tape on them..... (no, that doesn't work). I will buy 200 feet of new hoses in 50' lengths. I will not leave them on the driveway for people to run over them. I will not stab them with the garden fork. I will coil them away when done with them....

8.Buy a new trowel. The old one is getting too cheeky.

9.Plant more than one acorn squash. Turns out, if you only have one, the squashes are nasty tasteless things. Who knew.

10. Build a fence around my tomatoes and cover them with screen or something. I got pretty tired of tomatoes with one bite taken out by the local chipmunk.

11. Re-do the Hillside Garden. That includes removing two Spirea bushes. Owwww, I'm tired already just thinking about it. Hope I can find the crowbar on that day!

12. Go for a daily walkabout. Last year I tried concentrating on one area at a time and as a result I missed whole bloom sequences. Did the dwarf Jacob's Ladder bloom? Did it look good with the Polygala? I don't know, I missed it. Get up half an hour earlier if I have to, but no more missing out on the fun stuff.

OK, that's enough. With my short attention span, I'll be lucky to accomplish half of these!

Wait, Kip insists I add one more:

13. Take him (Loyal Dog) for a walk (almost) every day. He points out that our new trails in the woods need regular use to stay open and we don't want to miss any plant excitement there either. Actually, he said 'wildlife excitement', but he can't read this.

Happy 2012 in the Garden to All of You!