A Student Garden in Three Steppes

Martha Keen is currently a 1st year student in Longwood Gardens’ Professional Gardener Program; one of her program’s requirements to design and plant a plot adjacent to their student housing. In the following, she shares her philosophy about her garden, which has a spectral, if not ethereal feel in its muted hues (namely blues, grays, and washed out mauve).


The area where Martha and her classmates created their individualistic gardens is a broad expanse free of structures and trees that can appear initially uninspiring, but becomes dramatically appealing through light and fog at different times. Already in early May are the plots eerily tonal from a foggy spring morning.

The area where Martha and her classmates created their individualistic gardens is a broad expanse free of structures and trees that can appear initially uninspiring, but becomes dramatically appealing through light and fog at different times. Already in early May are the plots eerily tonal from a foggy spring morning.

Confines free up creativity, I’ve learned. My classmates and I were each assigned a piece of earth, 15 feet across and 50 feet long, in the middle of a field. I pondered how to make a space from such a narrow slice, absent any backdrop or existing groundwork, devoid of even anything to erase. The single marked character of the site was its slight slope, and the more I tread my plot the more I seemed to notice it.

Youthful gardens promise new beginnings that old gardens can obscure without thorough examination. Martha reveals the gradual transformation of her barren plot into the extant garden, which started in May.

Youthful gardens promise new beginnings that old gardens can obscure without thorough examination. Martha reveals the gradual transformation of her barren plot into the extant garden, which started in May.

From this slope I carved three scalloped terraces, each to hold its own group of plantings selected to evoke, but not replicate a short grass prairie on the top tier, a dune in the center, and tall meadow at the lowest end. The hoop path and margins were mulched with blonde pea gravel, and the plants were sited in wide bands to echo the elliptical center bed. I mulched with salt hay, whose soft color and texture left no dark voids among plants.

Given ideal conditions and no competition, plants can rapidly grow as if they are racing to take advantage over each other; here in July, Martha's plantings are beginning to fill out.

Given ideal conditions and no competition, plants can rapidly grow as if they are racing to take advantage over each other; here in July, Martha’s plantings are beginning to fill out.

As a gardener, but as a living creature, I would never begrudge a flower. But this a garden was a study in textures and repetition first. Among the color palette, I deferred to glaucous and muted foliage wherever possible; among the flowers, few occur that are not dusty too: cream and mauve, a smattering of burgundy. Looking up towards my garden this fall, from the southern side facing north, I could finally see what I wondered about all summer long: a series of steps from Panicum, to Leymus, to cardoon, to Schizachyrium, an a series of undulations filling the spaces between the plantings but hidden from view unless one is inside.

Steely blue gray is the thematic color of Martha's garden (left to right): Verbascum phlomoides; Pycnanthemum muticum, Cynara cardunculus, and Leymus arenarius with Zinnia elegans 'Queen Red Lime'; Schizachyrium scoparium 'Standing Ovation', Leymus arenarius, and Cynara cardunculus

Steely blue gray is the thematic color of Martha’s garden (left to right): Verbascum phlomoides; Pycnanthemum muticum, Cynara cardunculus, and Leymus arenarius with Zinnia elegans ‘Queen Red Lime’; Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Standing Ovation’, Leymus arenarius, and Cynara cardunculus

In a garden that deploys strong textural contrasts in foliage, like the jagged edges of Cynara cardunculus and curvaceous folds of Crambe maritima (sea kale), flowers seem superfluous, and where they do exist, they become sculptural selves after death. Both Monarda punctata (upper left hand pic) and Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' (lower left hand pic) have dual roles in life and death.

In a garden that deploys strong textural contrasts in foliage, like the jagged edges of Cynara cardunculus and curvaceous folds of Crambe maritima (sea kale), flowers seem superfluous, and where they do exist, they become sculptural selves after death. Both Monarda punctata (upper left hand pic) and Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ (lower left hand pic) have dual roles in life and death.

In October, the bleached hues of the grasses mark a momentary seasonal shift in light while Cynara cardunuculus and Leymus arenarius remain steadfastly defiant in their icy demeanors. Martha's garden was unwavering strong throughout the season, and because it utilizes more perennials and grasses than annuals, its winter interest will likely be strong.

In October, the bleached hues of the grasses mark a momentary seasonal shift in light while Cynara cardunuculus and Leymus arenarius remain steadfastly defiant in their icy demeanors. Martha’s garden was unwavering strong throughout the season, and because it utilizes more perennials and grasses than annuals, its winter interest will likely be strong.

A garden is alchemy, something where once nothing was; a garden is willful too, requiring tremendous effort and input that we would flatter ourselves to call creation. Rather, this one revealed itself to a fortunate accident. I selected plants, and many of them expressed themselves so jubilantly in their places that to greet them everyday made this gardener feel a bit more steadfastly herself as well.

5-10-5: Kate Blairstone, Illustrator and Print Maker

In a twist of fate, I had not realized that the Kate who had waited on our table during my February trip in Portland was a talented artist herself! Only a month later did I happened on her floral prints in her Instagram account. Her webpage is as colorful and cheerful as her personality, and Kate recently launched her online shop selling a few prints (I particularly like the Euphorbia print).


IMG_4173Please introduce yourself.

My name is Kate Blairstone – I’m 33 and live in beautiful North Portland, Oregon with my husband, dog and two cats.
Summer pink on pink: herbaceous peonies swim among rock rose (Cistus), a combination feasible in climates like that of Portland where Kate is fortunate to reside.

Summer pink on pink: herbaceous peonies swim among rock rose (Cistus), a combination feasible in climates like that of Portland where Kate is fortunate to reside.

The arts or horticulture? 
Both! I find that my many creative outlets inform and pollinate one another – it just depends on how much time there’s left in a day.
The 'Beware of Wisteria' should probably replace 'Beware of Dog' sign', and the juxtaposition, intentional or not, speaks a certain cheekiness, which Kate expresses somewhat in her work.

The ‘Beware of Wisteria’ should probably replace ‘Beware of Dog’ sign’, and the juxtaposition, intentional or not, speaks a certain cheekiness, which Kate expresses somewhat in her work.

Did your interest in gardening develop simultaneously with your professional development in art? 
Yes, in that they developed next to each other – it’s only recently that they’ve really overlapped. I’ve always been an artist, but it’s only since I’ve become a homeowner that I’ve been able to call myself a gardener. You have to have a garden to garden, right?
Like most creative types, you have a full time job at the Portland institution Besaw’s that pays your bills while you are able to produce your artwork, namely prints. How do you juggle the demands of a full time job that can limit creative output? 
When I first started at Besaw’s, I used to feel like the work depleted my creative energy available for my own outlets. In the last year I’ve been focusing more on my creativity as a practice, which really means that I can compartmentalize my output in proportion to the activity I’m working on. I’m much better at allocating only a certain time frame to a work project. I’m more efficient.
I’ve been successful at building my art practice at home by creating parameters for my work: a consistent format, process, and schedule. I feel the same way about my garden – it takes ongoing maintenance. It’s always evolving, and if you don’t stick with it it can get away from you. My husband is also an artist, so we’ve made our studio time something we do together.
Creativity can be capricious – funneling it into a productive and lucrative endeavor is always a challenge facing creative types. It’s all too easy to elapse into a dilettante when priorities divert commitment. Do you set aside blocks of time closed off to interruptions and obligations? 
I try very hard to limit my social obligations, which has been a funny transition as I’ve come out of my 20s. I used to worry over not having enough time to do everything; now I’m just much better at scheduling my time. I’d love to build my practice into a sustainable career, but at this point I’m happy to be able to create consistently. It’s gratifying to be able to see your own progress and track it over time, rather than waiting for inspiration to strike.
Artists sometimes take years to refine their techniques before they are almost confident of them. At the same time their styles evolve with age. Sometimes mastering a new tool that can bring a new dimension to your work can add to the development process. What did your education in printmaking teach and did not? 
I have a funny relationship with art school. I’ve always been someone who’s taken to lots of interests, so in some ways my choice of Printmaking as a course of study was a bit arbitrary. I transferred to art school because I wanted to take more art classes. I started out in Photography but decided I didn’t like that because it wasn’t hands-on enough, and the Printmaking department at the time had the most agreeable faculty.
I didn’t use any printmaking in my work for years after college, and still don’t print my work myself, but I think it shaped my way of image-making. I tend to think in terms of surface design and flatness; I love textiles and folk art, the way craftspeople have been interpreting the world around them for hundreds of years.
A solitary Coulter's Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) peeks forth from the chartreuse Euphorbia amydaloides var. robbiae; such surprise combinations inspire Kate's graphic prints.

A solitary Coulter’s Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) peeks forth from the chartreuse Euphorbia amydaloides var. robbiae; such surprise combinations inspire Kate’s graphic prints.

How often do you play around with colors and spacing until you are satisfied with the resulting print? I find it overwhelming to pick out colors that really complement or scream the personality of the plant whenever I set to depict it in paintings. 
I usually start out with a realistic color portrayal, and then stray from there. It’s funny – some pieces are much easier than others. Sometimes I get the color relationships where I want them right away, and sometimes it takes hours. It doesn’t help that I tend to like unexpected color combinations. I love the filters in VSCO – I like to play with screen shots of my work on my phone. Sometimes the filters will tweak colors in interesting ways that I hadn’t considered. Placement is much easier, as I try to work within the same format every time.
Kate's ceramic vessels play host to enthusiastic, unrestrained bursts of floral arrangements.

Kate’s ceramic vessels play host to enthusiastic, unrestrained bursts of floral arrangements.

You enjoy collecting antique Asian ceramics. I detect a similarity between the floral motifs on these ceramics and those of your work – sometimes the juxtaposition of colors recall Asian pairings rather than Western ones. They seem lurid in the mind but they always turn out beautiful and contemporary. The Austrian-born Swedish artist and designer Josef Frank’s work comes close in the Western world. 
I love both those comparisons, thank you so much! I work often in ink, so I look at a lot of Asian porcelain, which often has a very similar line quality. I also find that the flowers and foliage depicted are often of actual plant species, rather than imagined ones. As I get to know different plants through both horticulture and drawing, I feel that I’m connecting to a long history of botanical surface design. I enjoy recognizing the plants others have drawn as well – peonies, dogwood, bamboo, chrysanthemums & bonsai – especially on antique pieces.
Josef Frank’s surface design has a similar feeling of flatness and layering, partially because we both use similar production methods. I love love love his overgrown and colorful aesthetic.
Lately I’ve been digging 60s and 70s illustration and surface design – the psychedelic color relationships remind me of golden hour in the garden.
The Swedish-Austrian designer Josef Frank's graphic botanical prints have a lot in common with Kate's work, and it isn't surprising to discover how she enjoys their playful feel.

The Swedish-Austrian designer Josef Frank’s graphic botanical prints have a lot in common with Kate’s work, and it isn’t surprising to discover how she enjoys their playful feel.

Do you have a preferred medium or media in which you render your prints? Are graphic design programs or digital printing part of the process?
I love working in ink – that’s how much of my work starts. It can be loose and heavy, or light and scratchy. I build up parts of each plant in layers of ink on tissue paper. Then I scan each layer, and colorize them in Adobe Illustrator. It’s instant gratification, but also keeps my work hands-on for much of the process.
Bright colors always tickle Kate's aesthetic senses - her photograph of these red chairs against the green foliage of cosmos reflects that preference.

Bright colors always tickle Kate’s aesthetic senses – her photograph of these red chairs against the green foliage of cosmos reflects that preference.

Retro prints are enjoying a revival as people crave bright colors as an antidote to our modern, monochromatic styles. Have any of your prints been reproduced for wallpapers and home decor? 
I’ve sold work for home decor, and would love to produce a line of wallpaper. That’s my dream! If I could have wild prints everywhere I would.
Unexpected sights, such as swags of red roses gracing the front facade of this modest house, always inspire Kate to pause and take photographs.

Unexpected sights, such as swags of red roses gracing the front facade of this modest house, always inspire Kate to pause and take photographs.

No plant seems to escape your attention – orchids, succulents, euphorias, and even temperate woody plants have been immortalized in your bold and colorful patterns. Where are you likely to seek plants for floral and botanical inspiration? 
I help with social media for the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon, so when I get a chance, there are many fabulous open gardens throughout much of the year here in Portland. I also take tons of pictures everywhere I go. I often pull off the road when driving to take pictures of plants!
Irises are a favorite of Kate who favors their brilliant colors and sword-like leaves.; here a few iris flowers really steal the scene here.

Irises are a favorite of Kate who favors their brilliant colors and sword-like leaves.; here a few iris flowers really steal the scene here.

Portland has a vibrant horticultural community that benefits from its ideal climate for plants. What are some of your favorite gardens and nurseries to visit in Portland? 
I love to visit Joy Creek Nursery in Scappoose and Cistus Nursury on Sauvie Island. On a sunny day, that beautiful drive (plus free chocolate chip cookies at Joy Creek) is my favorite day trip. This year I went two weekends in a row to Schreiner’s Iris Gardens. I am now a huge huge fan of iris. I love getting to see a huge variety of the same species all together like that. I also love the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden and Pacific Bonsai Museum outside Seattle. So good.
Any advice you wish to impart to those seeking to blend their artistic ambitions with plants and the greater natural world? 
For me, making art is about seeing, observing. It is also a practice. Going out and looking at plants, working with plants, studying their structure and growth season all contribute to understanding how they might translate artistically. I favor illustration and printmaking as well as folk art when looking for inspiration (and comparison); it’s not about realism, it’s about style and mood.
An unlikely combination made possible in the maritime Pacific Northwest climate: Tetrapanax papyrifer with Cornus.

An unlikely combination made possible in the maritime Pacific Northwest climate: Tetrapanax papyrifer with Cornus.

If you do have a garden, could you say that it is an extension of your personality you confidently exhibit in your prints? I imagine a garden full of graphic architectural plants paired with softer romantic ones – such as the dogwood with Tetrapanax you posted on Instagram. 
My garden is two years old, and started as a very weedy patch of grass. Much of it is still that way (we’re gradually working on that), but it’s now much more colorful. My husband and I got married in our backyard last August, so I spent a lot of time last year creating my “wedding garden”: brugmansia, Yucca rostrata & lots of kniphofia. As Mexican as possible! I think you’re right, though, my favorite combination is my Tetrapanax and white Japanese anemone. As my friend Kate Bryant says, they’re gonna fight it out!
Your desert island plant? 
Can I lump all the poppies together as one plant? If not, I’m in love with Lewisia. #OregonNative!
We creative types never cease to have something coming along shall our interests flag. What projects do you have in the pipeline? 
My husband and I recently went to Croatia for two weeks! I saw and drew as many unusual Mediterranean plants as I can. After that, I have plans for some limited run screen printed editions and hopefully some wallpaper!
Select 6 prints and explain briefly their inspiration behind them. 
Peony & Wisteria
Peony & Wisteria: Honestly I was surprised that these bloomed together this year. Am I crazy? I was looking at vintage Uzbek Russian Trade Print Cotton fabric at the time – which is loud and bright and floral and retro: a fun eBay search when it pops up.
ItohPeony
Itoh Peony: My Coral Charm bloomed, and it was amazing! I was playing with grass textures, and enjoyed the juxtaposition. One of my favorite design challenges is “Vintage 70s Tea Towel.”
Poppies
Poppies: I often work in flat, digital color, so I’m always looking for ways to imply texture. This was another 70s Tea Towel Challenge- but maybe somewhere in the Mediterranean.
Aeonium
Aeonium: For a while we didn’t have a scanner, so I was taking pictures of my ink drawings with my phone, emailing them to myself, and then manipulating them in Photoshop and Illustrator. A pain in the ass, but an unintentional, happy result is the way the layers are offset. I like that hand printed, vintage feel. I studied this aeonium for a long time while drawing; it’s great meditation.
Euphorbia
Euphorbia: This Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ was one of those plants I thought hadn’t made it – there’s a good amount of neglect in my garden – and it suddenly reappeared this spring. I love that bright center; the huge clump of it at Joy Creek is one of my favorite things in their display garden.
PeggyAnne
Peggy Anne:  I love illustrating variegated plants. It’s a way to gradually convince myself that they’ll be cool in my garden. I spotted Peggy Anne on my visit to Schreiner’s. Adelman Peony Garden is just down the road, which made for a fabulous nursery trip. Those splotchy Itoh peonies were a natural pair – I wish my yard were that adventurous!

 Thank you Kate!
~ Eric
 

Fragile and Resilient as a Poppy

Dear Jimmy,

Late May to early June is usually a jubilant time for me – the late spring growth has rapidly matured, the evenings stretch longer, and the vitality of foliage, still pristine and relatively unmarred, awakens the eyes jaded from winter. It is too the time of poppies -even the name ‘Poppy’ itself has a playful, pop-up art connotation, a concept that doesn’t take itself too seriously. And the color synonymous with poppies, a bright red unadulterated by blues or yellows, jolts the senses in its unabashed brilliance.
In the chalk fields of the Norfolk Broad a few years ago, I witnessed hundreds of Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas), dabbed like the red spots of a pointillist painting. At Chanticleer, parts of the Pond and Gravel Gardens become a sea of red, as long as winter has been merciful enough to let any seed or seedlings survive (this past winter was a brutal one, reducing the sea to more of a trickle). The poppy seems a symbol of beauty at its fullest and most fragile – a rainstorm easily send the curtain down on the flowers – that belittles its resilient profundity. Each flower dwindles to a capsule that expels hundreds of black seeds, a fraction of which secures the plant’s future. I’m often taken by surprise at the number of seedlings appearing in the garden the following spring. A seedling then quickly mushrooms into a fat clump transmogrifying into an airy framework of wiry stems and flowers with heat. After a few weeks, the entire plant becomes a desiccated skeleton having fulfilled its purpose. We pull it out, scattering its seeds wide in hopes of seeing more next year.
In the early morning light, Papaver rhoeas (Flanders poppy) glow crimson at the Rock Ledge, Chanticleer, Wayne, PA.

In the early morning light, Papaver rhoeas (Flanders poppy) glow crimson at the Rock Ledge, Chanticleer, Wayne, PA.

The Flanders or corn poppy has become a floral remembrance of WWI and WII battlefields – it has been said that poppies emerge thicker where bloodshed was the heaviest. Farmers regard them as agricultural weeds, although modern farming practices have more or less obliterated them. These poppies are ‘relics’ of a cultural landscape in which organisms had evolved in sync with traditional principles of animal husbandry, delayed tilling, and hedgerows.
Paler strains of Flander poppy, sometimes called Shirley poppies, are selected for their colors and can revert back easily if not kept pure.

Paler strains of Flander poppy, sometimes called Shirley poppies, are selected for their colors and can revert back easily if not kept pure.

Horticulturists took among themselves to select and breed for paler colors, which collectively became known as Shirley poppies. Shirley poppies will often revert to the standard red species if not carefully edited for rogue seedlings and separated physically. Their flowers have a silvery shimmer, a pearlescent quality made surreal during cloudy days.
The Oriental poppy is a portrait of sumptuous opulence, a voluptuous self of its wild cousins.

The Oriental poppy is a portrait of sumptuous opulence, a voluptuous self of its wild cousins.

The Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) seems to be a hypersexualized version of the Flanders poppies – its petals have become larger, fuller, and deeply crinkled like the finest chine crepe, its stamens and anthers sultrier like mascara-lined eyes, and its colors ‘less’ pure in red, washing into pinks and creams. Even its basal rosettes are bullies, making the Oriental poppy less of a partner to tango with than the Flanders poppies, which pirouette gracefully and spontaneously amidst other plants. In large gardens they look stunning with bearded irises, peonies, and other traditional cottage garden perennials.
The opium poppy has a duplicitous status  - it simultaneously produces narcotics and culinary seasonings (seeds and oil).

The opium poppy has a duplicitous status – it simultaneously produces narcotics and culinary seasonings (seeds and oil).

Ever since the Wicked Witch of the West sent Dorothy and her entourage into a soporific slumber with a field of poppies, the opium poppy has had a less salubrious reputation as a source of narcotics, including its derived product heroin. It irreversibly altered history when China was forced to concede Hong Kong to Great Britain in the aftermath of the Opium Wars. With darkness comes benevolence – the poppy seeds beloved in breads and cakes and poppyseed oil are from the opium poppy.
The individual black splotch on the red petal of the ladybird poppy (Papaver commutatum) adds a bold tension with the bright red.

The individual black splotch on the red petal of the ladybird poppy (Papaver commutatum) adds a bold tension with the bright red.

My heart belongs to the ladybird poppy (Papaver commutatum), which possesses the same saturated red of the Flanders poppy, but stamped with the trademark black splotches.Without these black splotches, the flowers look rather ordinary and merely attractive. At Great Dixter this poppy flowers with the magenta Gladiolus communis ssp. byzantinus at Great Dixter – it is a daring combination the late Christopher Lloyd loved in its irreverent cheekiness. Unfortunately the ladybird poppy is not a reliable self-seeder. The best way to hedge against no-shows next year is to start them from seed under cover, prick the seedlings individually into plugs, and plant as soon as possible when the roots have filled out. Autumn sowing is best as it goes for annual poppies. As you know, the effort is always worthwhile and I often dream of combinations with the ladybird poppy – the bright blues of Centaurea cyanus ‘Blue Ball’, the whites of Orlaya grandiflora, or orange geums. A field of them would be magical, evoking what John Keats wrote in Endymion: “Through the dancing poppies stole A breeze most softly lulling to my soul.”

~Eric

 

5-10-5: Emma Seniuk at Chanticleer

Using grapevine boughs from her father's property, Emma painstakingly wove them over the arches after removing the remnant old branches and wire. A constant in the Cut Flower Garden, the arches are structurally significant, giving height when the beds are bare in winter and early spring. Cloaked in vines and engulfed by the riot of vegetation, they become less visible later in the season.

Using grapevine boughs from her father’s property, Emma painstakingly wove them over the arches after removing the remnant old branches and wire. A constant in the Cut Flower Garden at Chanticleer, the arches are structurally significant, giving height when the beds are bare in winter and early spring. Cloaked in vines and engulfed by the riot of vegetation, they become less visible later in the season.

Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Emma Seniuk and I am the cut flower and vegetable gardener at Chanticleer in Wayne Pennsylvania.
Emma effectively groups tulips in blocks that drift across four beds, creating continuity through color and form, and their simplicity (three to four varieties) is fundamental for success.

Emma effectively groups tulips in blocks that drift across four beds, creating continuity through color and form, and their simplicity (three to four varieties) is fundamental for success.

Tell us a bit about your background.

Like most gardeners, I’ve loved plants since I was a child.  Over the years I have worked at a variety of jobs- nurseries, landscaping, beekeeping, helping to manage a Christmas tree farm but once I was introduced to public horticulture I was drawn in, hook, line and sinker.  I worked at Mt. Cuba Center as a seasonal, Longwood as a student, volunteered at Chanticleer over the years, had a year and half long studentship at Great Dixter and now am fortunate enough to be full time at Chanticleer.  

What was your first gardening experience?  
I remember picking the bulbils out the leaf axils of tiger lilies and snatching sugar peas from my Mom’s garden.
Aquilegia chrysantha 'Denver Gold' and the rich regal purples of Campanula medium (Canterbury bells) glitter like jewelry in the Cut  Flower Garden at Chanticleer.

Aquilegia chrysantha ‘Denver Gold’ and the rich regal purples of Campanula medium (Canterbury bells) glitter like jewelry in the Cut Flower Garden at Chanticleer.

The arts or horticulture? Horticulture
Under Fergus's direction, Emma begins to organize and design the front container display at Great Dixter.

Under Fergus’s direction, Emma begins to organize and design the front container display at Great Dixter.

Who do you consider to be your mentors?

 Fergus Garrett, Executive Director and Head Gardener of Great Dixter, undoubtedly my greatest gardening influence and just about the coolest guy you could ever meet.
What is your typical day at Chanticleer?  
I am a list maker and am always trying to organize and plan the garden in my mind but ultimately so much of gardening is about reacting, reading the garden and the weather and jumping in with both hands when the time is right.
Bamboo canes help delineate the sections where bulbs and biennials are to be planted, a trick Emma learned from Great Dixter.

Bamboo canes help delineate the sections where bulbs and biennials are to be planted, a trick Emma learned from Great Dixter.

Given that you had spent 2 years working at Great Dixter, how do you reconcile their philosophy with that of a different climate and garden at Chanticleer? In what ways do you anticipate the evolution of your style?
Great Dixter showed me what is possible in a garden.  It has been gardened with love for over a hundred years and, in that attention and dynamic style, I can see what is possible with my continued dedication to the craft.  Good gardens are made up of plants which do well in each individual situation.  They must sit right in the space as well as flourish culturally, so instead of trying to grow everything grown at Great Dixter, I am trying to find the right plants for each of my garden sections at Chanticleer.      
Left beginning from upper left to the bottom right: Le Jardin Plume; Hastings Beach; poppies in Normandy, France; dahlias at Great Dixter, England; Promenade plantée in Paris; delphiniums at the RHS Plant Trials beds at Wisley; park in Blois, France; Friends drinking - Rachael, Yannick, and James; Courson Flower Show in France;  Succissia pratensis; Great Dixter's Long Border; Milkweeds and goldenrod in Rhode Island;  Keith Wiley's Wildside in Devon, UK; dinner at private garden; White Clay Creek Preserve, Pennsylvania

Left beginning from upper left to the bottom right: Le Jardin Plume; Hastings Beach; poppies in Normandy, France; dahlias at Great Dixter, England; Promenade plantée in Paris; delphiniums at the RHS Plant Trials beds at Wisley; park in Blois, France; Friends drinking – Rachael, Yannick, and James; Courson Flower Show in France; Succissia pratensis; Great Dixter’s Long Border; Milkweeds and goldenrod in Rhode Island; Keith Wiley’s Wildside in Devon, UK; dinner at private garden; White Clay Creek Preserve, Pennsylvania

We often look towards United Kingdom as the primary source of inspiration and professional enrichment, and few of us venture to continental Europe (France, Italy, Belgium) to see what gardeners are achieving there as well. What are some of the gardens or techniques you found refreshing or inspiring in continental Europe?
While living in England I became enchanted with France and spent a good many weekends tooling around Normandy visiting gardens, staying in Paris and traveling to the Loire.  My most treasured garden experiences in France were visiting and getting to know Le Jardin Plume, a gracious and already iconic garden in Normandy.  Also, I fell for the private garden of Creche Pape in Brittany, where I saw shrubs and and stone work creating ribbons and waves of volume, and a garden festival in the Loire, called Chaumont-Sur-Loire, composed of annually themed garden installations.
Emma is always evaluating plant combinations for their effectiveness - to a casual eye, the  dark purple Tulipa 'Negrita' and bright orange Erysimum x marshallii (Siberian wallflower) are attractive together, but needs a third partner to elevate the duet to something more sublime and interesting. While it is too late to add another plant, Emma will record her observations, a good practice for any gardener looking to better their gardens.

Emma is always evaluating plant combinations for their effectiveness – to a casual eye, the dark purple Tulipa ‘Negrita’ and bright orange Erysimum x marshallii (Siberian wallflower) are attractive together, but needs a third partner to elevate the duet to something more sublime and interesting. While it is too late to add another plant, Emma will record her observations, a good practice for any gardener looking to better their gardens.

You mentioned that your approach towards selecting and combining plants is very similar to that of a fashion designer. Can you kindly elaborate?
Because I work so much with annuals, I am able to alter my display considerably throughout a single growing season.  I generally try to work with a theme each year and this helps me give parameters to plant choices and color combinations.
The foxtail lilies (Eremurus 'Spring Valley Hybrids') and soft orange 'Swansea' lilies rise above Nicotiana 'Lime Green', white Ammi majus,  Anthemum graveolens, and  Consolida ajacis in this delightful relaxed planting (Summer 2013).

The foxtail lilies (Eremurus ‘Spring Valley Hybrids’) and soft orange ‘Swansea’ lilies rise above Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’, white Ammi majus, Anthemum graveolens, and Consolida ajacis in this delightful relaxed planting (Summer 2013).

You’re very involved in propagation – most gardens now have staff devoted specifically to propagation and nursery areas, or the staff tend to order plants in. What is it about propagation you find very appealing (despite the demands your garden makes on you)? 
To grow and propagate a plant is to know it fully.  Also, with my reliance in annual displays I have control over the quality of the plant.  So many of the plants bought these days are grown in a peat based medium and when planted in the garden the root system sits in the peat, unable to acclimate with the surrounding garden soil.  At Chanticleer I have been using a mixture of screened compost and grit to grow my annuals and when I plant them in the garden they don’t miss a beat.  
Emma mixes her own potting medium, which ensures plants tough enough to withstand garden conditions.

Emma mixes her own potting medium, which ensures plants tough enough to withstand garden conditions.

In the cold frames, Ammi majus and A. visnaga await their final homes in the Cut Flower Garden at Chanticleer (Spring 2013).

In the cold frames, Ammi majus and A. visnaga await their final homes in the Cut Flower Garden at Chanticleer (Spring 2013).

If asked to describe your garden in one or two songs, what would you pick? Why?
Tough one.  I prefer to relate plant choices to emotions and, at heart, I’m a terrible romantic.  
Dark plummy purples to wine reds are one of Emma's favorite colors in the Cut Garden Flower at Chanticleer.  Left to right clockwise: Cosmos bipinnatus 'Rubenza'; Papaver somniferum 'Lauren's Grape'; Tulipa 'Rem's Favourite'; Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum'

Dark plummy purples to wine reds are one of Emma’s favorite colors in the Cut Garden Flower at Chanticleer.
Left to right clockwise: Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Rubenza’; Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’; Tulipa ‘Rem’s Favourite’; Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’

What guidance or advice can you give to young people interested in horticulture as a profession?
Look to your elders and support your peers. 
Ammi majus is a stellar player in different ensembles in the Cut Flower Garden. Top left clockwise: Papaver somniferum; Digitalis purpurea and Nicotiana 'Lime Green'; Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum', Eremurus 'Spring Valley Hybrids'; Eremurus x robustus

Ammi majus is a stellar player in different ensembles in the Cut Flower Garden. Top left clockwise: Papaver somniferum; Digitalis purpurea and Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’; Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’, Eremurus ‘Spring Valley Hybrids’; Eremurus x robustus

You’re highly critical of what makes a good garden plant, as you confess how you don’t have time to mollycoddle them. Can you name some of your favorite plants and their outstanding features you admire? 
Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’ for its tall stature, persistent seed heads, and over two month bloom time in the heat of the summer.  Ammi majus and visnaga for their white umbels, ferny foliage, and dreamy appeal.  These plants are good for a beginner grower and a rewarding late spring surprise.  Verbena bonariensis, an annual which self sows when in good spirits and has a way of dancing through the garden, punctuating displays with its purple flowers which last well into the season.  Wiry but sturdy, graceful but impactful, it has a steadfast charm, which will constantly capture the imagination of gardeners.   
Emma values composites for their summer and autumn flowers, which  Left to right: Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’ and Helianthus x multiflorus ‘Capenoch Star’; Tithonia rotundifolia and Helianthus angustifolius ‘Gold Lace’; Coreopsis tripteris ‘Lightning Flash’; Helianthus maximilianii ‘Santa Fe’ and the red Amaranthus hypochrondriacus and Tithonia rotundifolia.

Emma values composites for their summer and autumn flowers, which Left to right: Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’ and Helianthus x multiflorus ‘Capenoch Star’; Tithonia rotundifolia and Helianthus angustifolius ‘Gold Lace’; Coreopsis tripteris ‘Lightning Flash’; Helianthus maximilianii ‘Santa Fe’ and the red Amaranthus hypochrondriacus and Tithonia rotundifolia.

What is your desert island plant? 
Two Cocos nucifera with a hammock strung between them.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Still gardening, learning and loving it!

Stoking the Fall Fire

Salvia guaranitica and Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ with Dahlia ‘David Howard’ in the background

Autumn is an excellent time to evaluate combinations in the garden especially when one needs to consider what tender perennials and spring-planted bulbs to dig up or propagate for the following year.  With the classic blue skies, the golden autumn really highlight bright colors.  As cool nights return, dahlias are stepping their game again after their initial flush of flowers in early summer. Dark-leafed cultivars, especially the Mystic Series from the New Zealand plant breeder Keith Hammett, continue to be introduced. Few have surpassed ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, which remains a gardener’s classic, like a black cocktail dress for women. There’s something arresting about the unadulterated bright red flowers jumping fiery-eyed from its dark moody foliage. ‘David Howard’ is another dark-leafed variety that has catapulted into the classic arena of mixed borders. Its orange is soft, not glaringly brash, making it easily compatible with most plants. It is taller and larger than ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, requiring staking to prevent the stems from toppling over. Salvia guaranitica, a South American native, has been flowering steadily throughout summer, and its almost true-blue flowers add a cooling note to the fiery colors of ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and ‘David Howard’. This trio of dahlias and Salvia guaranitica can be quadrupled for a late summer to autumn bedding scheme.

The key thing is to keep the combination simple, restricting the plants to two to three for that elusive artful balance.

~Eric

Blue and Orange Deux

Jewel tones of Geranium [Rozanne] = 'Gerwat' and Eschscholzia californica 'Jelly Beans' with Nassella tenuissima

Jewel tones of Geranium [Rozanne] = ‘Gerwat’ and Eschscholzia californica ‘Jelly Beans’ with Nassella tenuissima (private garden, Langley, British Columbia)

Geranium [Rozanne] = ‘Gerwat’ may be ubiquitous, dethroning ‘Johnson’s Blue’, but it doesn’t preclude it from being a good garden plant whose sprawling growth and free flowering can led to endless pairings. ‘Jelly Beans’ California poppies explode at the same level as ‘Rozanne’ as both plants are lax in habit. The two colors, blue and orange, work well since they are complementary. Unfortunately the poppies are annual, and need to be resown since any self-sown seedlings may revert back to the straight species.

Northwest Perennial Alliance’s Perennial Border at Bellevue Botanical Garden

View from the Top of the Second Terrace

View from the Top of the Second Terrace; note the cages protecting the tree trunks from rabbit damage

As any seasoned gardener will tell you, revamping or renovating an established garden isn’t an easy feat completed within a day’s work. Perennial weeds take hold, weaker plants fade away, and woody plants grow out of scale. Such challenges faced Charles Price and Glenn Withey when the Northwest Perennial Alliance (NPA), modelled after England’s Hardy Plant Society, asked them to redesign its Perennial Border at Bellevue Botanical Garden, Washington State, seven years later after they resigned from overseeing its maintenance.  Price and Withey, two of the original designers, are well known in the Pacific Northwest for their colorful artistry with plants, uncommon and common. They are too seasoned gardeners who gardened ‘feverishly’ for 7 years in the 1980s and currently oversee the Dunn Gardens (the Curator’s Garden is a must-see for this pair’s consummate talents). First conceived in 1992, the Northwest Perennial Alliance Perennial Border was meant to inspire and educate the horticultural community in the Puget Sound region.  Its fame later spread throughout the North American gardening circles, and demonstrated that the Europeans did not necessarily had the hegemony on mixed or herbaceous borders. Certainly the region’s mild climate with warm days and cool nights, well suited for herbaceous perennials, didn’t hurt either.

Kniphofia 'Little Maid' plays off the colors of the Verbascum, Stipa gigantea, and Lilium 'Concha d'Or'

Kniphofia ‘Little Maid’ plays off the colors of the Verbascum, Stipa gigantea, and Lilium ‘Concha d’Or’

When I visited the border in 2005, it had none of the brilliance acclaimed and photographed in books and magazines.  Instead what greeted me was a weedy overgrown tangle of perennials and grasses, and any remnants of its former glory failed to redeemed the glaring fallacies, and I left disappointed wondering if the Northwest Perennial Alliance had lost interest in maintaining it.  In the interim, tensions had run high between the Border Committee and the NPA Board, which wanted a renovation fiercely opposed by the former. After the Border Committee dissolved, the NPA brought in Longwood Professional Gardeners’ graduate George Lasch to supervise the transformation. Lasch was realistic about the reasons behind the Border’s undoing, saying: “Great gardeners are not always necessarily great designers. It became a classic gardening-by-committee problem, and the editing choices made a decade ago led to problems that we need to address today” (CityArts).  Changes afoot included reduced maintenance regimes, better visitor accessibility, and a connection to the rest of Bellevue Botanical Garden. First a bulldozer was brought out to wipe out the area after the desirable plants were saved. Gone were the golden carpets of creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’), purple barberry, Siberian irises, and geraniums.  “Now the garden has been given a second chance.  I will be the first to admit that the renovation has been controversial, as some people believe nothing should change.  Life however is full of changes and surprises, and no matter how hard we try and hold on, things cannot and will not ever remain the same.”

Stacked stone columns add vertical notes, relating to the spires of Verbascum, Lilium 'Sweetheart', and Datsica cannabina (on the right).

Stacked stone columns add vertical notes, relating to the spires of Verbascum, Lilium ‘Sweetheart’, and Datsica cannabina (on the right).

Curious about the border’s second transformation, I returned again this year, relieved to discover how beautiful the plantings had matured. The cages for protecting the trees against rabbits were still in place, but they were sculptural, blending with the plants. Instead of the Rothkosque blocks of bright colors in the original design, the plantings have become drift-like and painterly as if Price and Withey subconsciously instilled a looser, relaxed look.  Such drifts enable the plantings to be presentable and interesting from each vantage point afforded by the border’s sloping terrain split by two pathways. As part of the shift towards less maintenance, Price and Withey avoided aggressive self-seeding plants (Astrantia was a major problem in the previous border) or woody plants requiring coppicing (pollarded Catalpa grew out of scale when pruning was neglected for some time).   Roses hardly make their presence as the Border used to have roses trained over hoops. Nevertheless, these sacrifices did not diminish the Border’s beauty.

The garnet orbs of Allium sphaerocephalon rise above the crimson blanket flowers, while the soft pinks and blues can be seen in the background.

The garnet orbs of Allium sphaerocephalon rise above the crimson blanket flowers, while the soft pinks and blues can be seen in the background.

The Perennial Border is not monochromatic and a fail-safe approach towards color is not the chief aspiration of Price and Withey especially when the clear summer skies of the Pacific Northwest call for chromatic intensity of equal measure. Soft or cool colors are unexpectedly sharpened with brighter ones (burgundy with red orange; blue with bright orange and burgundy, pink with yellow). Had the Border been graduated in color, the instinct of the viewer would be to walk quickly past the plantings rather than a slow pacing to appreciate an unorthodox combination here and there.  While perennials are the principal focus, trees and shrubs are not underrepresented. They may be seem absent in these photographs, but they require more time to fulfill their mature sizes and the unusual ones used are not always readily available in large sizes without being prohibitively expensive. Grasses, especially Panicum and Miscanthus temporarily step into the role of the woody plants.

In the low evening light, the purples glow with surreal intensity, only tempered by the greens from the grasses.

In the low evening light, the purples glow with surreal intensity, only tempered by the greens and yellows from the grasses.

The renovation still creates mixed feelings within the horticultural community – one employee at Molbak’s confided that she liked the original reincarnation better as it was more lush and fuller. As controversial as the project was for the horticultural community, it is a recurring reminder that no garden exists in inertia and a zealous attitude towards preservation can be detrimental rather than helpful. The ‘missing’ lushness will arrive as the garden moves from its adolescent stage towards maturity, and under the capable eye of George Lasch, the creative input of Price and Withey, and the NPA’s volunteer crew.  ~Eric

Cotinus coggyria 'Young Lady', seen behind the tall lilies (possibly Lilium sargentiae or Lilium regale) anchors the mixed plantings of grasses, Kniphofia, lavender, Astilbe, and other perennials.

Cotinus coggyria ‘Young Lady’, seen behind the tall lilies (possibly Lilium sargentiae or Lilium regale) anchors the mixed plantings of grasses, Kniphofia, lavender, Astilbe, and other perennials.

Blues and Oranges

Phygelius 'Passionate' with Agapanthus, Kniphofia, Phlox paniculata 'Blue Paradise' against Physocarpus opulifolius [Diabolo] = 'Monlo' at the Bellevue Botanical Garden's NPA Border

Phygelius ‘Passionate’ with Agapanthus, Kniphofia, Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’ against Physocarpus opulifolius [Diabolo] = ‘Monlo’ at the Bellevue Botanical Garden’s NPA Border

Used alone, blue to dark purple flowers can become visual black holes. Thrown into relief with orange flowers, they
transform into something electrifying and energizing. Here the orange spires of Kniphofia break up the blues and purples of agapanthus and Phlox paniculata ‘Blue Paradise’ while the airy panicles of Phygelius ‘Passionate’ reinforce the orange theme. Physocarpus opulifolius [Diabolo] = ‘Monlo’ forms a dark backdrop against which the blue and orange planting jumps forward. Its dark foliage relates well to the dark stems of Phygelius ‘Passionate’.     ~Eric

Honeyworts and Scillas

Scilla Cerinthe Close Up LQ

For years, I always admired the honeyworts (Cerinthe major var. purpurascens), but never had the opportunity to cut it for floral arrangements until self-sown colonies in an Australian friend’s garden avail themselves for this purpose. Flowering in a nearby bed was another vigorous, nearly aggressive clump of the Portuguese squill (Scilla peruviana). Both flowers had the same moody dark purple colors, and the blue green honeywort leaves lightened what could have been an oppressive combination. I added several stems of the Portuguese squill to the bucket of honeyworts. Because a close friend had asked me to do flowers for her New York wedding next year, and I decided to hone my bouquet-making skills with these two flowers. From a distance, the bouquet looks rather ordinary until you realize how unique the flowers are on close examination. I was surprised at the bouquet’s longevity – the unopened buds of the Portuguese squill continue to open, and the honeyworts retained their color.

Nocturne - Frantisek Kupka, 1910

Nocturne –  František Kupka, 1910

Recently I was looking through art books and found this painting entitled ‘Nocturne’ by the Czech artist  František Kupka. Having an interest in color theory, Kupka created abstract representations of color for impact since the colors, once disassociated with specific objects, acquired more figurative significance. Dabs of blues, blacks, and purples create a strong impression of darkness in ‘Nocturne’.  Unconsciously, I had echoed these spectral colors in the bouquet of honeyworts and scillas.

Scilla Cerinthe Profile LQ