5-10-5: Gina Price of Pettifers Garden

I first met Gina after I saw her garden on the front cover of the 2007 Good Gardens Guide and then reached out to schedule a visit in person. On weekends when I wasn’t occupied with my postgraduate research, I would often drive out to visit historic houses, gardens, and nurseries. Nonetheless, a date and time are agreed upon and I tentatively knocked on the door upon which I had embarrassingly mistaken her husband James for a friend. The Prices ended up having a good laugh about the episode, and I ended up staying for much of the day, cementing my friendship with Gina. We’ve kept in touch over the years as the garden has evolved beautifully.


 

When you first started gardening, you mentioned how your influential friends were merciless in their critiques of your early garden. I can’t imagine that you didn’t feel slighted at that time although the memory of those times appear funny now. What were some of the memorable lines?

Betsy Muir, Dianey Binny’s 80 year old sister was ruthlessly critical about a small curved bed opposite the kitchen door:  ‘Gina, that is a damn dull bed.  Just a lot of acquilegias, and not even special ones.’ I had not realised how much they seeded, and I was near to tears, but she was right. Everything takes so long gardening, and I felt exhausted. When Betsy saw my hostas eaten by snails, she remarked: ‘is that hailstone damage?’ That did make me laugh. And that was the end of my growing hostas as the snails would crawl out of my low stone walls near the house to decimate them. Betsy told me the greatest enemy in the garden was wind, and I opened it all up to embrace the landscape. However the plants I planted, for example grasses, and herbaceous perennials did not really mind wind.

Arabella Lennox Boyd told me how ugly my steps were, and what was I going to do about them.  They had just been laid, and were not a feature of beauty due to inexperience on my behalf. I then covered them with Ivy, which has just been taken off now at least 23 years later. They now look better, and we have placed on the bottom flat bits stone balls that was my Christmas present from James!  Polly [my gardener] thinks they look Dutch.  The colour of the stone has weathered beautifully. These remarks were not all as harsh criticisms as they sounded, as both Arabella and Betsy followed their visits up with very encouraging letters, which I have kept and treasured.

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Alliums, like Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, are an essential part of the garden, although they do sometimes need editing as the bulbs have become too successful in multiplying.

Gardens, like their owners, evolve to reflect changing or mature tastes in plants or styles. Comparatively speaking, what would you have liked to say to your inexperienced self through a time machine?

I would like to say that it was not a waste of time growing all the different plants that I grew in the beginning. I learnt how they all behaved in the ground, which ones were thugs, and which liked the conditions of my garden or not. It took years to develop a taste of my own, and a style of my own, and then to stick to it and not be swayed. I learned to look for interest in the leaf and not just the flower. I like plants that look good for a long time, e.g. six months, but these plants are difficult to find. I buy maybe five, and learnt not to have it look too bitty. I try to have it not look too studied – for example, when we are digging out the bluebells of the beds, we leave some in the right hand side which is more woodland-like.

Rather than take the customary approach of dividing the garden into rooms to prevent the countryside view from dominating, you took the opposite, not easy tactic of allowing the garden embrace the view. How did you keep the garden balanced with the wider panorama?

I always knew that I did not want rooms in my garden, though some people tried to pressure me to divide it up, as that was the fashion at the time.  We have gone on and on opening it up particularly by taking out the big rose bushes of Rosa californica ‘Plena’ which were at the end of the lawn stopping the eye. Now we have two yew domes, which is simpler and picks up the picture of the yew in the parterre down below. To keep the garden balanced, not only have the chimneys in the parterre grown a lot and matured (beautifully clipped by Polly), but also we have enlarged the Autumn border and swept it on round to the right to incorporate the landscape. We have taken out the Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ on the right hand side, and the hedge of Rosa glauca, and planted two separate yew hedges which are going to be tapering with the lie of the land, for it all runs gently downhill.

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Most modernist gardens depend heavily on hardscaping and herbaceous perennials with grasses, whereas your garden is more accommodating of woody plants. What value do you see in having a diversity of woody plants?

I don’t like a lot of hardscaping in a garden. The advantage of woody plants is that the whole thing is going to look more natural. We are a north facing garden, so the plants are going to enjoy dappled shade, and near the house we have stepping stones taking you through the beds. It is only in the last five years that I have discovered the beauty of ferns. However, it is very difficult finding plants that will do well under the shadow of my two large yew trees on the right hand side.

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Agapanthus ‘Quink Drops’, a plant bought from Marchants Hardy Plants, with Hemerocallis ‘Margery Fish’.

British gardeners are spoilt for plant choices, which can be overwhelming for novices. How do you filter what will work successfully with your garden?

I go to two top class nurseries, which sell plants of my taste. Two of my favorite nurseries are Marchants Hardy Plants owned by Graham Gough and Lucy Goffin, and Avondale Nursery near Coventry. Graham and Lucy and I always have lunch together, when we never draw breath about plants!  Polly once went to Marchants, and Graham asked her if she needed any help, to which she said no, as she had seen them all in our garden (she did say quite that to Graham)!

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An allee of Malus transitoria in the Paddock leads out to a pale blue wash of camassias.

Why is the transcendent or emotional feeling elusive even in the gardens of UK?

Maybe the owner is not emotional, or too many gardens done by designers.

It takes a courageous spirit to apply for a tree preservation order to be rescinded and then remove the tree once the application is approved. Does the sentimentality towards trees prevent gardens from being better?

I don’t understand the sentimentality towards trees if it is going to spoil the overall picture, or stop things from growing by sucking up the moisture from the ground. To me it is totally obvious if a tree needs to come out.

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Cyclamen and hellebores are essential plants that lift winter blues for Gina.

Winters in the British Isles can be gray, damp, and miserable. What in the garden lifts your spirits during those leaden days?

The winter aconites, snowdrops, Sarcococca, Cornus mas, and hellebores, which flower for about 3 months. Particularly the snowdrops and the hellebores.

How often do you and your gardener Polly discuss the garden’s evolution?

Constantly.

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The Klimt Border at its midsummer peak.

You often allude to artists or their works when describing specific areas of the garden such as the Gustav Klimt border or the Bottecelli meadow. Does this artistic allusion help evoke the atmosphere you and Polly hope to achieve?

Yes it does , and it is not dissimilar to our description.

The inclination to garden or create a garden seems more persuasive in UK than it has been in Corfu, Greece where challenges like hard soil and dry summers appear insurmountable.

Here in the British Isles we have the perfect gardening climate, which is maybe why we talk about the weather all the time!   We have had a mild winter, a wet spring, some heat, and now cold again.     The plants are growing as you look at them.   Corfu is very difficult. It has cold wet winters, with a rainfall the same as London. Spring is beautiful with the soft green of the olive trees, and many wild flowers everywhere. But then follows 3 to 4 months of very hot weather, with poor watering facilities, and poor quality water that is salty. Again in the autumn everything freshens up and looks beautiful again. Before we bought the property, the garden was just an olive grove, without even a single cypress.

 

What are some of the plants you could not be without in the garden?

I would not be without the yew structure in the garden, and the Phillyreas, particularly Phillyrea latifolia that I grow.  I love the Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’, and Cornus controversa. The layout of the parterre has turned out much better than I ever thought it would.  My new favourite is my golden Cornus mas.

Again and again you have emphasized the effect of clipping your shrubs well so their forms become architectural after the borders have been tidied. What does it take to clip skillfully and beautifully without overdoing it?

Polly does all the clipping, and she does it all beautifully and by eye.  In the parterre the shapes tend to be on the large side, such as Daphne tangutica. It is huge but we are frightened of cutting into too hard as we do not want to lose it.    Our bushes of Sarcococca are pretty massive, but it all leads to more drama in the winter.

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Some people dismiss dahlias and tulips as too much effort – especially lifting and staking for the first, and topping up for the latter. What is it about these two that you and Polly find invaluable for the garden?

Dahlias and tulips are certainly not too much effort. The garden looks beautiful at this moment and it is the tulips making rivers of colour in the borders. Then later on the dahlias in the parterre flower until the end of October, and they are also done to a colour scheme, flowering endlessly, being deadheaded, with flowers for the house.

People gardening in tropical and even Mediterranean climates use scented plants to greater effect than those in temperate climates. What is it about scent you find enthralling in a garden?

Scent in a garden is one of its many joys. James [my husband] has no sense of smell at all which is a shame.

You often get a strong smell particularly in the evening.  My favourites are Monarda, and Dictamnus when you brush your hands up its stems.

 

Book Review: Landscape of Dreams by Isabel and Julian Bannerman

by Eric Hsu

All images are the courtesy and copyright of Isabel and Julian Bannerman.  


Garden designers are like fashion designers in that they memorialize their work through books. Their books are either modest affairs or expensive productions. The former can become deserving classics for their information dispensed with wit and poetry. The latter can lapse into the clichéd interior design format – large two-page photographic spreads, minimal or no text, and glossary to matt paper. A brief introduction may preface the photography. They have their sole purpose of mindless dreaming and fantasies of what money or time can achieve. Isabel and Julian Bannerman’s Landscape of Dreams (Pimpernel Press 2016) toes these two categories of being informative and visually slick.

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In a NY Times T Magazine profile of their Cornish garden, Tim Richardson describes the husband and wife team as to-go ’90s landscape designers for high profile clients that included the Prince of Wales (at Highgrove), Lord Rothschild (Waddesdon Manor), John Paul Getty Jr. (Wormsley) and the Marquess of Cholmondeley (Houghton Hall). Their projects veer heavily towards grandiose ones rather than the townhouse and urban gardens other designers take on.  Their gardens have the bold armature of wooden or stone structures embellished with anthers, finials, and carvings that are dramatic peers to their plantings. Grasses are seldom used as they are in contemporary gardens, but roses, aquilegias, tulips and topiary, all archetypal elements of classic country gardens, are liberally deployed. As prescriptive as this look may seem, the Bannermans have developed a knack for blurring the lines, muffling out the formality with self sowers, perennials that flop decadently over the hedges, and curvaceous topiary forms. They admitted this feat a slippery one: “Trying to make it look as if gardening is not happening particularly is a very tricky deception, full of contradiction since it is actually tuned up and put on steroids.”

Cultivated wilderness as seen in these garden scenes from Tremarton, the Bannermans' second personal garden in Cornwall.

Cultivated wilderness as seen in these garden scenes from Tremarton, the Bannermans’ second personal garden in Cornwall. Image credit: Julian and Isabel Bannerman

A foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales opens the book with an enthusiastic acknowledgment of the Bannermans’ interdisciplinary talents in architecture, landscape, and interior design. This royal endorsement hardly adds to the book apart from the seal of approval to readers unsure about the book’s contents. What follows is an autobiographical chapter in which the Bannermans recount their upbringing, early influences, and philosophy. Their reminiscences are revealed with surprising candor especially about people whose lives happened to collide with them. Reading passage after passage unwinding about these quirky individuals is like a communion with the fantastical characters who populate Alice in Wonderland. DV or David Vicary is described as [a] magical scarecrow of a man, beautifully turned out in his uniform of dark brown alpaca long waistcoat – a sort of subfusc outfit after Doctor Johnson – had a mop of excellent hair definitive nose, and wry vivacious eyes.’ Coincidentally the Bannermans allude to  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for its ‘illusory, hallucinatory quality’ they strive to instill in their work.

Detailed sketches for Wormsley, one of the Bannermans' commissions.

Detailed sketches for Wormsley, one of the Bannermans’ commissions. Image credit: Isabel and Julian Bannerman

 

The Bannermans are not shrinking violets when it comes to theatricality in the garden. They have marvelous fun poring over historical texts, paintings, and references to pierce together imaginative gardens that would have delighted garden goers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is precisely what they have achieved in half of the former walled kitchen garden at Arundel Castle, Sussex. From the Somerset House garden plan the Bannermans tailored the two-terraced garden – the upper terrace being a trio of courts interlocked by a oak pergola, and the lower terrace a miniature castle, Oberon’s Palace. Two graveled courts with a fountain and four catalpa trees each flank the central court with its canal of water. Oak urn fountains topped with gilded bronze agaves squirt water into this canal. A  large open lawn planted up with alliums transition between the upper and lower terrace. Oberon’s Palace, which takes after the Little Castle at Bolsover, is miraculously mounted on a plinth of Sussex ragstone rocks. The interior palace walls are encrusted with shells and corks, and the room centerpiece is The Dancing Crown. The Bannermans left no detail undone – dolphin, dog, and lion figurines adorn the fountains in the catalpa courts while deer anthers adorn the Park Temple. Sea monkeys guard the arch entranceway of Oberon’s Palace. One cannot help smile at the playful atmosphere of  all the features, even if the embellishment may come across over the top for some.

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Daniel Mytens’ portrait of Alathea Talbot painted in 1618 – the Bannermans enlarged the background detail of the garden with its hornbeam pergola, fountain and the doorway on which the Collector Earl’s Garden and Oberon’s Palace’s interior were modelled. Image Credit: Wikipedia

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A gilded crown is propelled into the air by the jet of water from a fountain at Arundel Castle. This water trick was inspired by the one the Bannermans had seen at Hellbrunn, Palace of the Archbishop of Salzburg. Image Credit: Julian and Isabel Bannerman


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The yellow Chinese bridge at Woolbeding. Image credit: Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

If Arundel Castle is the court jester in the Bannerman design portfolio, then Woolbeding is the royal advisor who parlays a sensible and sympathetic strategy for problems. In tackling Woolbeding, the Bannermans realized: “Lightness of touch is an intangible quality, something we all always seek to achieve and can never be sure of finding.” The late Simon Sainsbury and Stewart Grimshaw already established the formal and productive gardens since purchasing the property in 1970s. For a long time, they struggled with unifying the ‘Long Walk’ to the woodland garden, a large copse of trees, and a placid body of water. A painted Gothic pavilion was positioned listlessly on a grassy knoll without any incentive to visit it. To announce the change from open pasture to arboretum with its structural elements, the Bannermans constructed a Gothic ruin archway entrance. A visitor then would take this entrance as the cue to anticipate the next episode. Because the owners did not wish to move the pavilion, it became the reference point under which a 12′ cliff fashioned out of Sussex sandstone was created. Water would cascade from this cliff, breaking up the still waters and giving impetus to the pavilion views across the lake. A Chinese bridge painted yellow to echo yellow flags and skunk cabbages hovered enchantingly close to the water surface and provide views towards the pavilion. The Bannermans continued the ‘journey’ to a thatched hermitage and the cave of the Rother god, conceived to be the ‘father’ of the river. They installed a tufa monolith, which oozed water from the Rother through clever engineering, in the circular glade where Simon and Stewart had positioned statues of four seasons. This monolith,  “a strange and powerful beast, slumbering, closed-winged but latent”, introduces mystery and a note of danger without which a garden can be atmospheric. It is a light theatrical touch that brings cohesion to the woodland garden, lake, and the pavilion.



 

A view of the house and the garden at Hanham Court, the Bannermans' residence for 18 years.

A view of the house and the garden at Hanham Court, the Bannermans’ residence for 18 years. Image Credit: Isabel and Julian Bannerman

Hanham Court and Trematon Castle, the last two gardens in the book, are personal ones which the Bannermans patiently and diligently wrestled out of their derelict, overgrown status quo. Had not for the help of the antipodeans (one Kiwi who looked after the children and cooking, and seven Aussies who helped with the construction), the garden at Hanham Court would not have materialized given the sorry state of the property at the beginning. The inception of the garden at Hanham Court prompts a comedic recollection of a conservation officer who, initially horrified at the swimming pool within the remnant medieval ruins, was less than enthused about being duped by the architectural chicanery the Bannermans constructed. It was not simply enough to undertake the house and garden restoration for the impoverished soil needed earth backfills and compost additions before anything was to be planted. The ancient tangle of wisteria was forcibly pulled down to wire the house and retrained to maximize their flowering productivity, and roses like Rosa bankisae ‘Lutea’, ‘Felicite Perpetue’ and ‘Rambling Rector’ joined in the climbing chorus. Nonetheless each project led to another until Hanham Court became civilized with the requisite romanticism. It’s a place that is breathtaking in scale when you visit as I did several years ago on an open garden day. Like Alice who crawls into the rabbit hole or mirror only to end up in an alternate world, you first enter through the wicket gate that is a brief dark interlude before the colors, scents, and all that is the Bannerman magic overwhelm you.

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Native wildflower scenes at Tremarton. Photo credit: Isabel and Julian Bannerman

Despite its Cornish location, Trematon proved no picnic either. Archaeological restrictions (no duplicitous ruins and no gullible enforcers) meant no wanton digging. Years of neglect had allowed winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) to spread aggressively and smother out the native wildflowers. Sloping terrain doubled the time it took to complete projects. The Bannermans describe their first year as grey and disconsolate from the rain that fell incessantly. ‘Grey skies, grey granite, grey shaley soil, bitter and wet it was, and the boiler was bust, when we landed with a lot of furniture in a heap from Bristol.’ Just as they had done with their previous derelict projects, they valiantly persisted as they replanted their losses, wrenched out boulders, and excavated new planting holes. Bramble, ground elder, and heliotrope were either sprayed or pulled out from the banks. Judging from the photographs, much of their efforts appeared to pay off. The removal of the invasive and aggressive weeds allowed some of the native wildflowers to return, and made what was once impenetrable promising canvas to ‘paint’. Given how the castle walls already provided the essential backdrop, the Bannermans describe a dizzyingly range of plants, especially those scented, added over the last five years. Their emphasis on scent is purposeful for ‘Cornwall is good for scent, being warm and wet and, when the sun does appear, aromatic plants exude their turpentine tang.’

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Bannermans often turn to climbing roses in their work – Rosa ‘Albéric Barbier’, ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’, and ‘Rambling Rector’ clamber over a ruined wall at Euridge Manor Farm. Photo credit: Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

One of the admirable aspects about the Bannermans is their fluency with different plants, a skill that is becoming more uncommon among garden designers and landscape architects. They act like discriminating magpies who retain their proven prizes, experiment a bit, and fold in new possibilities to an existing scheme. Philadelphus (mock orange), old roses, pinks, lilies, sweet peas and lupines are always introduced to gardens with tour de force herbaceous borders.  It is easy to pooh pooh these plants in these gardens, but the Bannermans cherish them for their ‘lived in’ effect they inject in a youthful garden. They are familiar and sensual, evocative of the dreamy past.

If a criticism is to be volleyed at the book, the photography occasionally fails to match the exacting high standards of the garden. Either the authors or the editors have taken the unusual step of not commissioning a garden photographer to illustrate the text, instead opting for the authors’ photography. The downside of such photography is their uneven quality, which can be a letdown for those accustomed to crisp and sharp images in other garden books. Some of the photographs would have been culled to prevent repetition  – one or two close-ups of the plantings would simply suffice. On the upside, the ‘homemade’ feel of the photography gives the text a personal touch as if we were peering through a creative scrapbook or compendium of the authors’ work.

Landscape of Dreams is a book which deserves periodical poring for its sophisticated fluency in landscape and garden design. It demonstrates that truly talented designers do not produce products of hubris, but of respect and humility to the sites they are commissioned to work on. The Bannermans are sensible to realize that each site has its limitations that require their plans to be specific and individualistic.

A Philadelphian Printemps

Dear Jimmy,

In our recent conversation you had expressed some impatience for spring to jump into action since the maritime climate usually means temperatures slower to warm, while moderating them. Each year I am always anxious to see how winter transitions to spring because it is a rare year when I experience a seamless change. While the mild winter was a welcome change from the last two years’ unforgiving winters, it caused me some concern about how some plants may been cajoled prematurely from dormancy, risking their tender shoots or flowers to sudden cold snaps. Snow in April has happened before, and early spring frosts have despoiled early spring displays of magnolias and cherries. A summery spell in mid-March this year awakened some bulbs, perennials, and woody plants foolish enough to respond in turn, and two weeks later a frigid cold snap curtailed what would have been a spectacular show from some magnolias and spring Asian perennials like epimediums. At the same time, we were able to see how cold resilient the plants were – unsurprisingly the spring ephemerals and bulbs did not flinch at all, save for limp leaves that perked up with warmer temperatures during the day. There isn’t much one can do in the face of seemingly cataclysmic events – instead one just accepts the havoc with quiet resignation and move forward to what the remainder of season will send our way. My intervention was draping my fig tree with swathes of fabric to mitigate the cold from damaging the emerging shoots – two figless summers had me unwilling to experience a third figless summer.

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On one hand, the cold nights kept my tulips on a slow waltz – only a day or two of 80 F is enough to send tulips into early overdrive, crinkling their petals and shattering them the next day – they had budded and turned color, and maintained that status for a good two weeks until consistent warmth swelled their buds without warning. After a mosaic-like grids of different tulips last year, I opted for a simpler scheme of white tulips sprinkled with some dark purple ones for contrast. Keeping tulips to a minimum of 1 to 3 varieties prevents the effect from becoming too Easter-egg like, a chromatic chaos disjointed visually. Tulipa ‘Hakuun’ was and is a winner in my black book of top notch plants- the slightly upright foliage does have the floppy gait of some Darwin tulips, the buds taper elegantly like the closed beaks of well-fed birds, and are flushed with a pale wash of celadon, and the ovoid flowers have a pure crystalline color untainted by cream or yellow. The Japanese who bred this tulip for their cut-flower trade obviously knew what they were doing.

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Narcissus ‘Manly’ and N. ‘Ice Wings’ with Tulipa ‘Continental’ – an inspired concept of black and white from Scandinavian minimalist color template. 

Tulipa ‘Continental’ is peppered throughout T. ‘Hakuun’ and the white daffodils, giving a depth that prevents the white scheme from being too ‘safe’. The touches of yellow in Narcissus ‘Manly’ emulate sparks of light, injecting warmth, and similarly the emerging inflorescences of the biennial Isatis tinctoria takes the same color to a different height.

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I like the Viridiflora type tulips but their late flowering tends to occur with those heat waves that hasten the display. I always stop to take notes of tulips I admire here and there, and place my orders in late summer. For new varieties, I grow them in pots for closer observation. One such pot contains Tulipa ‘Night Rider’, a Viridiflora type mauve streaked with green. The bulbs had been bought in the clearance rack at Home Depot early December.

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The sole peony I inherited from the previous owners have surprised me with its shade tolerance during summer, and its reliable blooms. Earlier the new growth was a vibrant red, a burnished tone that proved to a good foil for the cool icy whites and greens. I nearly removed it last year, but its fortitude last summer won me. The foliage gets powdery mildew, and I usually cut it down.

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My garden would feel bereft without alliums, which takes over the show after the tulips and daffodils. Allium schoenoprasum or chives surprised me with its precocious flowering, and its soft mauve color harmonized well with the bulbs. I plan on harvesting a few blossoms to garnish salads, and use the leaves for scrambled eggs. Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and Allium ‘Mt. Everest’ have yet to flower, although I hope that they coincide with woad and poppies (Papaver rhoeas and P. commutatum). I should have started borage for their blue flowers since the primary color mix of red poppies and yellow woad could be stronger with blue. However, it has been exciting to see small rosettes planted last December literally galloping away into full growth and soon flowering.

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The cool colors are intentional as I only enjoy my garden very early in the morning or later in the evening. As the sun begins to fade behind the row houses, the garden takes on an incandescent aura.

As some supermarkets and home-improvement stores roll out racks of warm season annuals and vegetables too early to be planted outside (I’m always incredulous at how people allow a few warm days and the haze of spring fever delude themselves into planting these heat lovers too early), I’m sketching mentally a shortlist of annuals and tender perennials to take over after the early summer flush. Last summer, I struggled to keep the momentum I had from spring and early summer in my terrace garden. We have had a dry and hot summer, which meant shriveled plants and terrible mite infestations that ruined my cosmos and dahlias. I decided that I don’t have enough sun to grow composites well, and will revise my summer planting this year. It didn’t help that I was often on the road last year, nationally and internationally. It’s the promise of starting afresh each year that keeps gardening a beautiful and positive endeavor.

Best,

Eric

 

 

 

 

Foreign Gardeners: Carrie, from the U.S. to the Netherlands


My introduction to Carrie Preston was through a mutual friend and other half of Plinth et al. Eric, when we were putting together a list of interesting candidates to interview for our Foreign Gardener series.  After seeing some of Carrie’s projects and learning that she was living in the Netherlands, I was even more excited and intrigued, having lived there myself. It’s an incredibly beautiful country to live in and experience so I was curious to see it from a different perspective and point of view and through the eyes of  Carrie. Her immense talent in horticulture is obvious, from which you will see,  and I found her openness and candor about her life there refreshing. Thank you Carrie. – James


 

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Contemplating the next project….


Hello Carrie, a pleasure to speak with you and get to know more about your work. I know what you incredible work you do but would you please share with our readers who you are and in what aspect of the horticulture world you work in?

Carrie Preston and I presently work as a designer of mostly residential gardens through my own design studio, Studio TOOP. I started the business 10 years ago.

a small cross-section of the landscape in New Jersey

Where are you originally from and where did you move to?

I am originally from New Jersey (on the Shore), USA and I studied in Pennsylvania, in the Delaware Valley. After a short internship here in 1998, followed by a year and a half of traveling, I moved to the Netherlands in 2000.

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early Dutch memories, already smiling among the plants

What was it that made you decide that you wanted to move to the Netherlands?

I could come up with all sorts of rational reasons why I wanted to go to the Netherlands – excellence in horticulture, urban design and planning, central location in Europe, left-leaning politics – and all those reasons would be valid and true. But the heart of the matter is, there was a girl in my kindergarten class who moved to the Netherlands with her family. We were pen pals for a while, but the letters faded. Still I was left with a fascination with the Netherlands and a desire to visit. It gained a sort of mythology for me, and so when the time came to travel and see the world after I finish my studies, the Netherlands was at the top of my list of places to go.


‘It is remarkable how life has crossroads and how powers outside yourself sometimes decide things for you.’


The move was meant to be temporary, but life has a way of happening. I originally came here for an internship. I then made a trip around the world before coming back to NL for what I thought would be masters study in Landscape Architecture (I have a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture and Sustainable Agriculture that I earned in the U.S.). I wound up not finishing the study but stayed in NL because of a relationship and before you know it, here I am, almost 18 years later. It is remarkable how life has crossroads and how powers outside yourself sometimes decide things for you.

Studio TOOP  Hof van de vierde sortie

Studio TOOP Hof van de vierde sortie

 Can you share with us some of the daily responsibilities that come with your job at Studio Toop?

I generally have between 8 and 12 projects going at once. Design work is an intense process and I spend a lot of time really getting to know my client and the location. Besides the design I also am involved during the build process and often do the planting myself. Over the years I have developed a great team of experts who I work with and rely on for different aspects of the job – from technical drawing to masonry to management of complex planting schemes after the garden is realized.

Studio TOOP  Hof van de vierde sortie

Studio TOOP Hof van de vierde sortie

There are always benefits to doing things outside of your comfort zone. What would you say you have found to be some of those benefits to living abroad as a gardener?

Living abroad forces you to challenge your assumptions, also in regards to landscape. Things like foundation plantings in the U.S. or the ubiquitous fence or hedge here, you question. Why is this done? Is it appropriate here? Because the default mode is different in different places, you become aware that it is a default mode and know that another solution is always possible. This allows you to think in solutions and to design with intention.

details of a Dutch life and landscape

 In addition to this, the Netherlands has very unique relationship to nature, being that so much of the land is man-made. This challenged a lot of my notions of the natural and made me see the make-ability of many landscapes. I have become more free in how I approach a space now than I think might I had not lived here. I am not afraid to radically change a space, if it has purpose. My view of the natural has become less romantic and more pragmatic – very Dutch!

Smalle_tuinkamer-Afb-10The flatness of the landscape here has taught me the power of tiny elevation changes and I have become a master of small spaces.

What has been wonderful about living here is the ready availability and affordability of plants. The Netherlands has an almost incomparable nursery industry. It has been possible for me, even with a limited budget, to experiment with plants in a way I likely couldn’t have elsewhere.

Inclusieve_Tuin_juni2013-Slider-04With the positive points there are always a few negative ones. What would you say are some of the difficulties you have encountered in your new country?

One of things I most underestimated is that when you move to a new country you completely give up your network. This might be less the case now than it was 18 years ago, but all those small contacts you make throughout the years — the person you know from that class you took when you were a kid, or that friend of your father’s or friend of a friend – all those small connections that can help you get things done, bring you clients, be your in, they are all gone. Add to that the language difficulty and your illiteracy with the subtleties of the culture and it is much harder to navigate many situations. The job you would have easily in your home country, you don’t get because you came on too strong, or worded things in a way that lacked subtly, or just aren’t familiar in a way that works.

There comes a point that this shifts. That you understand the culture and language well enough to navigate its subtleties and then your foreignness becomes charming and something that helps people remember you by. But for me that was an investment that took several years.

Specific to the Dutch situation in combination with my personality is that the Dutch tend to value the understated and a more reserved quality. I tend to be very “present” which is something that is very much encouraged in American culture but is frowned upon in Dutch culture. In Dutch culture the goal often seems to be to not to stand out. I am not good at that. Early on in my years here I struggled to tone things down. I think maybe I have, but now I know the culture well enough that I can successfully be bold and my own person without this being off putting like it was in the beginning.

Inclusieve_Tuin_juni2013-Afb-06What have some of the struggles been in the horticulture field while there?

In the Netherlands the distinction between public and private space is quite significant. There is a limited amount of space that falls in between smaller residential gardens and larger public space. Few companies have campuses and larger properties and estates are really the exception, at least in the urban west where I live. This means I have to work very hard to earn a good living. Slowly I am building enough of a reputation and and marketing myself differently so as to attract larger projects with larger financial returns. Out of a sort of idealism I think I waited too long with this. I believe in making gardens for more typical households, but doing so means I need to do a lot more assignments to earn enough. I am still trying to find the balance in this.

Studio Toop understands the importance and beauty of detail…

When I came here a sort of bare minimalism was very much in fashion. Coming from a culture with a much more romantic image of gardens and a much more romantic idea of nature, this was confronting and alienating. At first I really couldn’t relate to or appreciate the style but through the years it has grown on me. I understand the need for clarity in such limited space. The straight lines in the designs of gardens echo that of the landscape. It makes sense here. That said, I have never converted to the more extreme, starker minimalism that appeals to some of my Dutch colleagues. My designs have always maintained a sort of nonchalance and finding a way to combine this with the Dutch clarity has become something distinctive about the way I work.

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leisure in the landscape, the wonderful Dutch outlook on enjoying life

So, on the flip side what was a surprising change that you have welcomed and enjoyed outside of the realm you were used to?

It’s always ironic how these things work, but the aspect of Dutch culture that I found most difficult at first has wound up being the thing that is probably the healthiest and best influence on me. Dutch culture is not ambitious or competitive in the same way that American, or more generally, Anglo-Saxon, culture is. There is much more a collective sense of things. If we achieve, we achieve things as a group. There are subtle discouragements and controls to make sure you don’t stand out or excel too much.

To a large extent this is a way of being I have difficulty identifying with – or did for a long time. It can definitely be a negative thing, not allowing people to grow and be all they can be. But it can also be positive in the sense that there is much more of a life work balance and much more enjoyment of what you do and have achieved, rather than constantly looking for your next goal and comparing yourself either with others or some unrealistic ideal of who you think should be. I am a recovering perfectionist and Dutch culture, and to a large extent, this aspect of it, have been instrumental in that recovery.

Holland is a forgiving place, where if you mess up, there are safety nets and second chances. I’ve had a couple of tough years for various reasons and NL has been a kind and forgiving place to fall apart and put myself back together – to learn to be kinder to myself and to know that I am more than the things I do or how I perform.

Tell us now how you found your current job?

I made my current job. I had come here right after graduating from college without having had any real valuable work experience yet in the US. Coming to NL really set me back. It was near impossible for me to find a job at first. All the niches seemed so well defined and it felt like I fell between the grooves and wasn’t qualified to do much of anything. I did  what I could: yard work, cleaning houses, working at at cafe. I tried working at a garden center but I was only allowed to work the register and forbidden to really talk to customers. I tried finding a job at a botanical garden and wasn’t even granted an interview. Frustrated, I earned a teaching degree with the idea that it would offer me some financial stability and the option to work part time while I built my own business. And that’s what I did. I taught school part time for 3 years before choosing to focus full time on my business.

DSC_1488I am very aware, from having lived there, that the Netherlands landscape is very flat compared to the U.S., how has this difference played out in your work, or affected your way of thinking while designing?

The landscape here makes you respect and value small changes in elevation. I causes you to think about space differently. Also the linearity of the landscape has very much affected my work.

What advice would you give to others in your situation, who are about to make this sort of transition similar to yours?

I think the world now is such a different place than it was 18 years ago when I moved. You can make contacts ahead of time before you move somewhere. You can build your network from afar. You can, and I think should, make use of these opportunities. I went into this transition rather blind, without a clear goal or strategy. I would not do this again, and while it has worked out for me, it has set me back some years. I can argue those “wasted years” fed and formed me in different and valuable ways and they have. Life in whatever form, always does.  It was a difficult route though.

Before this change took place what kinds of things did you do to prepare yourself for the Netherlands?

I read some books on Dutch culture and language but it was all fairly superficial and didn’t really prepare me for reality. But 18 years ago information was so, so much harder to find.

IMG_1208Now that you find yourself more settled, what is one of the greater memories you have so far of your experiences your new environment?

What I really love, and will never tire of, is the amazing diversity of landscapes in a small area. I hike and bike a lot and in one day I can find myself in expansive heather fields in the morning, biking through an agricultural landscape in the afternoon and then sitting at a cafe or visiting a cultural event in Amsterdam or Utrecht in the evening. And this isn’t a once in a while, what a great moment kind of thing. This is a normal lifestyle for me. I love and am thankful for that.

Vleuten-Afb-04Prior to the big move, if you could give your younger self some advice for this life change, what would it have been?

Don’t try too hard to adapt. Don’t overcompensate. You are not Dutch and that is okay. You can respect this new environment without losing sight of who you are and the strengths this offers you.

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A lived in garden is a successful garden, clearly Studio Toop knows…

Now, before you go, please let us know what is your new favorite plant that you can grow now that you weren’t able to grow before?

I think it is more the general lushness of the plants I can grow that I love. Lots of rain equals lots of happy plants.


Thanks for taking the time to be a part of our Foreign Gardener series Carrie, we appreciate the insight on the life of a gardener overseas.  If you’d like to ask Carrie a question or comment please do so below, and to read further about the incredible work Carrie and Studio Toop is creating please click on the links provided. Thank you again Carrie.  – James


Website: StudioToop: gardens with life

email: info@studiotoop.nl

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5-10-5: Austin Eischeid, Garden Designer

Through the gardening network, Austin and I were introduced online where we bonded over plants and garden design. When he visited the Delaware Valley region for gardens and nurseries, we had a fun time evaluating plantings at Chanticleer, and comparing notes over plants at the North Creek Nurseries trial beds. Austin is now pursuing his degree  iin landscape architecture at University of Greenwich in London, United Kingdom, and the program should round out his strong experiences here in North America and overseas.


Austin laying out plants at one of Piet Oudolf's private commissions in US.

Austin laying out plants at one of Piet Oudolf’s private commissions in US.

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Austin Eischeid, a garden designer currently based in London to learn, get inspiration and meet professionals with the same passion for plants.


Grasses and herbaceous perennials are thematic teammates in Austin's Iowan garden. Austin has been a studious advocate of the looser planting styles t hat are defining gardens in this ecologically-minded milieu.

Grasses and herbaceous perennials are thematic teammates in Austin’s Iowan garden. Austin has been a studious advocate of the looser planting styles t hat are defining gardens in this ecologically-minded milieu.

The arts or horticulture?

I don’t think one could exist without the other.


It seems that your interest in gardening developed early as you seem advanced on the basis of your knowledge and experiences. What is your professional and educational background?

I was first brought into this fascinating world of horticulture when my parents let my sister and I experiment with a vegetable garden at the age of 4. It was so fascinating to see these flowers develop into the vegetables we eat everyday. My mother has a lot to do with my passion of plants. She’s the one who taught me confidence, not being afraid to fail and that the sky is the limit.

After vegetables I turned to roses and perennials. I started a rose garden then found out how high maintenance they can be, then converted it over to a sedum garden, talk about a transition. After this I started in my early teens adding different perennials such as: daisies, blood grass, cat mint and tickseed coreopsis to the mix. It progressively grew every year after that. There isn’t a better education on plants then growing them yourself and seeing their life cycle, habit, and seasonal beauty.

I knew from freshman year in high school that I wanted to get my BS at Iowa State University in Horticulture. I graduated in 2011 from ISU in Horticulture with an emphasis in Landscape Design, Installation and Management. I started my professional experience in residential perennial garden maintenance.

Lately I’ve been traveling Europe for inspiration and educating myself on the perennial movement. My first year (12’) I bought a one way ticket to London and traveled from nursery to garden center to botanical garden, looking for direction. Which let me to these past three years I’ve had three month internships at: Pomosus Landscaping in Dresden, Germany, Hermannshof in Weinheim, Germany and Orchard Dene in Henley-on-Thames, England.


Austin's personal garden in Iowa reveals the multi-layered planting that holds seasonal interest from summer until autumn.

Austin’s personal garden in Iowa reveals the multi-layered planting that holds seasonal interest from summer until autumn.

At what point did you decide that garden design was your future direction after being a floral designer and horticulturist?

I’ve known since early high school that I wanted to be a garden designer. My hometown in Iowa of 10,000 and surrounding area are lacking curb appeal. I wanted to bring horticulture into our culture and show people they can have a space to relax, reflect and enjoy at their own home. I feel people have been misguided/ disappointed after trying the thug perennials offered at big box stores and feel they are the ones doing something wrong. People need access and education on hardy/strong perennials that are for their specific region, water, light, and soil requirements.


Alliums, Calamintha nepeta, sedums, and Andropogon gerardii 'Red October' in the warm glow of the autumnal light on an Iowan morning

Alliums, Calamintha nepeta, sedums, and Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’ in the warm glow of the autumnal light on an Iowan morning

Russell Page once wrote: “in the town as in the country, a wise garden designer will study his site in silence and consider carefully his clients, their taste, their wishes, their way of life, their likes and dislikes, and absorb all of these factors at least as important as the ground that lies in front of him.” Garden design is similar to psychology where you discern your client’s personal taste and align it with your vision. How do you navigate that tightrope between compromise and confidence in your style?

I embrace my client’s differences and try to make their design special to them. If they have an issue with, say the color purple, which is very important in my design. It’s a matter of educating your client why you use it and how it will affect the design. Sometimes you have to remind your client why they hired you, a professional to do their design.

Sometimes designed gardens can be strangely impersonal especially if the owners are more interested in them as displays of wealth and status. Imagine if a Russian oligarch commissioned you to design his country estate outside of London but is more of an absentee owner who visits the garden twice a year, would you consider the job for financial gain and be willing to accept last minute changes?

It would depend on if the client and I had good chemistry. I like my clients to have curiosity and willingness to learn about their garden. If your client doesn’t care then the garden will never evolve. I wouldn’t do it for financial gain, but if I knew the space would be properly maintained and would benefit from my design style, why not.

During your initial site visit, what do you evaluate first? Soil? Hydrology? Or light?

All three are essential, but I would say soil is most important. If you don’t evaluate the soil you’re working with then your doomed from the beginning. Sometimes we forget that half of the plant is growing underground.

Designing a garden is one endeavor but to find someone or team competent enough to maintain the garden over time is another one. What kind of involvement do you anticipate after the design has been fulfilled and at what point will the garden evolve without your input?

I’m very much apart of my clients garden’s long term. I educate my clients and set them up with all the necessary tools they need to keep the gardens integrity. But I know you can’t throw all this information to them and expect them to take care of the garden from the moment you leave. Since I’m not around to check on or personally maintain the designs I’ve done I send my clients emails periodically. Sending emails during important times in the garden season, like when to do the Spring cleaning chop or a friendly reminder to weed until the plants have filled in.


Looking dapper, Austin poses in front of a show garden at the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Looking dapper, Austin poses in front of a show garden at the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Chelsea Flower Show has been criticized for its heavy reliance on show gardens and overlooking the Floral Marquee where the real stars are the plants. How do you feel about the gulf between the plants people and the designers? The expectations foisted on plants people to produce unseasonal plants in peak form for the show gardens can be stressful, yet the media attention is focused on the challenges garden designers face in realizing their plans to fruition before judging.

The media makes the show gardens the top priority, but when you’re in the hustle and bustle that is Chelsea I think everyone shines at their particular sector of the industry. There’s no doubt how special and unique the show is and how much it influences/inspires the industry worldwide.

I actually heard a lot of talk about using seasonal plants this year, but mostly pertaining to the repetition of similar plant material in all gardens. I don’t know how much of the plant material is forced too much out of season, because I heard a lot of talk about what it would be like to have Chelsea perhaps in the Fall or late Summer? It seems as though many gardens plant choices over lap and so you tend to see some trends repeated year after year. This years popular grasses were Luzula nivea, Melica altissima ‘alba’, Deschampsia cespitosa, and Briza media. These grasses are used because their early bloomers, but what if they could use all the great Miscanthus, Panicum, and Pennisetum?


Landscape architecture is often depicted as a profession where the plants are secondary to hardscaping. One well-known horticulturist was dismissive of landscape architects, saying that drawing bubbles and circles in place of plants was not real gardening and did not respect the plants’ specific requirements. You are about to enroll in the landscape architecture masters program at Greenwich, and the tangible connection to plants may be lost. What mindset will you adopt during the program?

I am at  University of Greenwich to enrich my technical background (AutoCAD and 3-D modeling), drafting and to learn how to use space. Studying in London I’m going to be surrounded with undeniably some of the best parks, landscape, and gardening culture. My passion for plants will be enhanced from my curiosity and living in such a green community.


Propagation trays of plants, and plants in finishing containers fill the polytunnels at Orchard Dene where Austin worked last spring.

Propagation trays of plants, and plants in finishing containers fill the polytunnels at Orchard Dene where Austin worked last spring.

The Marchants’ wholesale nursery Orchard Dene, where you spent last spring (2015) working, is the chief supplier for garden designers seeking grasses and herbaceous perennials that govern the current look. How has your time there influenced and broadened your planting perspective?

Spending time at Orchard Dene Nursery this spring was a great experience, as I wanted to see first hand the plant process it takes from seed to job site. While at Orchard Dene I was doing a lot of propagation (pricking out, cuttings and divisions) and potting. Having worked at an impeccable nursery growing quality plant material in peat-free compost, it was an excellent place to see how a nursery should be ran. I was lucky to be immersed in a nursery with such an array of hardy long-lived perennials to choose.

Orchard Dene primarily sells to designers such as: Dan Pearson, Tom Stuart Smith, Marcus Barnett and Cleve West. It was exciting to go through their pulled plant orders to get a glimpse of some of the combinations they were putting together in their designs. Working intimately with plants whether it is in your own garden or working with them in a nursery helps you understand better their characteristics and environmental needs.


Austin counts Cassian Schmidt as one of his influential mentors, and Cassian's pivotal work at Hermmanshof in Germany has spawned similar schemes worldwide.

Austin counts Cassian Schmidt as one of his influential mentors, and Cassian’s pivotal work at Hermmanshof in Germany has spawned similar schemes worldwide.

You are a veteran of European gardens after visiting them in Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, and England. What differences have you perceived among the gardens in those countries? There will be obvious overlaps in plants and styles, but each culture views their gardens differently.

In the Netherlands I found that the Dutch are very possessive of their land. They put hedges around their property border to show that it’s theirs and they love clean lines, very linear. England has a very high maintenance regime and spends more time in the garden than sitting to enjoy it. For example: rose training/trimming, intense vegetable gardens, and espalier. Germans have a very practical /scientific approach to gardening. They do their research and make sure their plantings are well thought out.

 This prairie-inspired planting of Echinacea paradoxa, Platycodon grandiflorus, Solidago rigida var. humilis, and Nassella (syn. Stipa) tenuissima at Hermannshof may appear effortless to the casual eye, but is the rigorous result of the Teutonic approach. Such plantings mark a difference that Austin notices between English and continental European gardens.

This prairie-inspired planting of Echinacea paradoxa, Platycodon grandiflorus, Solidago rigida var. humilis, and Nassella (syn. Stipa) tenuissima at Hermannshof may appear effortless to the casual eye, but is the rigorous result of the Teutonic approach. Such plantings mark a difference that Austin notices between English and continental European gardens.

For a garden that derives its conception from scientific discipline (the study of plant communities and ecological concepts), but presents a beautiful, humanizing portrayal of ‘re-interpreted’ wild gardens, Hermmanshof can be a trans formative experience for anyone used to municipal-style parks or public gardens. What did you take away from your time working there?
Not coming from such a scientific approach as Hermannshof, I found it interesting to see the deep understanding of the plants seasonality, maintenance, and vigor. Hermannshof gave me a better understanding of combinations, a new plant palette, and maintenance techniques. Working with the skilled gardeners was essential, as I was able to ask questions to grasp the New German gardening system.

One forte of English gardens is their layering of woody plants with bulbs and herbaceous perennials. For instance, Beth Chatto’s woodland garden is an outstanding example of a celebrated virtuoso orchestrating understory shrubs, bulbs, and shade perennials. Shrubs are not always regulated to hedges or topiary, but become key features in mixed borders. You had mentioned that your knowledge of shrubs is still in its infancy, but expect it to change. Are you of the Dutch and Belgian mentality of having woody plants sheared into tight frameworks or you prefer the natural forms, like the apple orchard with its meadow?

I don’t use a lot of shrubs in my current foundation residential design work, but would like to on larger scale projects. I think hedged and natural shrub forms are both useful in design. Since my style is very naturalistic and free flowing, using a sheared hedge behind a naturalistic planting just makes things feel harmonious. I also would use shrubs for their natural form when I place them within a design, just depends on the specific feeling of the space.


Left to right: Adam Woodruff, Piet Oudolf, Austin, and Roy Diblik

Left to right: Adam Woodruff, Piet Oudolf, Austin, and Roy Diblik

What influential people or individuals have you been inspired by?

I was first inspired to using hardy, long-lived perennials when I saw Roy Diblik speak in 2008 at Iowa State University’s Shade Tree Short Coarse my freshman year. His discussion about The “Know” Maintenance Garden changed my whole outlook on gardening. He became one of my mentors alongside Piet Oudolf, Cassian Schmidt and Adam Woodruff. You cannot underestimate the power of a good mentor, people in the horticulture industry are so willing to share the knowledge they’ve collected over the years. You just have to ask!

Piet Oudolf obviously has become an invaluable mentor and friend as you had the fortunate privilege and opportunity to work alongside him on private commissions in North America. Any tips or techniques you wish to divulge from watching one of the eminent maestros of free-form perennial planting design? 
One technique I learned from Piet was his skillful plant layout format. Taking it one layer at a time is essential to create masterpieces like his work. Depending on the scheme/design, first start by laying out the scatter/individual plants that are  woven among the block planting. Whether it be the sweeping artfully picked grasses or perennials, fill in the rest of the block areas with the appropriate scheme. When working on such a large scale, paying attention to the small details is  as critical as keeping track of the overall picture. When laying out the plants, step back once and awhile and keep an eye on the surroundings to keep the fluidity of the design.

Name and describe some of your favorite plants.

Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta

This plant is a great buffer/groundcover plant that can intermingle with almost any plant. Its petite foliage are a glossy bright green, which comes up as almost a ball form. But when it starts to bloom it has a more open habit. It has thousands of these miniature soft blue, but white to the eye bell shaped flowers that seem to hold on forever. Calamintha blooms from mid summer till frost, then leaves turn a deep purple in autumn.

Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'

Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’

Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ – I can’t seem to take my eye off this grass. It gets hundreds of magical one-inch caterpillar-like seed heads that dangle horizontally, in which seems like midair. This drought tolerant grass gets 3’x2’ and keeps its structure through the winter.

In Austin's home garden, Allium 'Summer Beauty', is a workhouse shrugging off the Midwest extremes to produce a reliable display. Here the red bobs of Sanguisorba officinalis orbit around the allium flowers.

In Austin’s home garden, Allium ‘Summer Beauty’, is a workhouse shrugging off the Midwest extremes to produce a reliable display. Here the red bobs of Sanguisorba officinalis orbit around the allium flowers.

Allium ‘Summer Beauty’- This well-rounded perennial can grow in full sun to part shade. Not only is this plant drought tolerant but, almost loves complete neglect. I can’t help but love this plant in every season. Its vivacious, shiny green seaweed-like foliage all summer long and it’s over 150 golf ball sized lavender blooms dangling above the foliage. This plant holds up to it’s name ‘Summer Beauty.’ Not to mention a bee and butterflies best friend. Plant turns a liquid gold color in the autumn with the spent blooms looking perky all winter long.

Your desert island plant?

Monarda bradburiana– This plant just has it all. Its mildew-free foliage in spring starts out a luscious burgundy, then has a gorgeous soft pink flower with fuchsia dots on each petal, pink bracts and a sweet smell. Its pinhead cushion seed heads might even top the flower by turning rosy pink after blooming. In autumn the foliage turns back to a rich burgundy-red. If that isn’t enough you can also make tea out of the foliage.


unnamedGerminating the seed of interest in plants for young kids who are increasingly immersed in a virtual world isn’t easy – you obviously had some young visitors to your Iowan garden. How did their reactions differ from adults who are already avid gardeners?
With my interest in gardening starting as a child, I want to share with the younger generations the beauty and enjoyment that you can get from nature. If you don’t get to the youth before they become connected to the digital world, the natural work becomes more difficult to integrate into their realm. With no preconceived concept of gardening, kids in general are more open to experimenting, without feeling they are going to make a mistake.

What advice do you wish to give to those keen on a profession as a garden designer?

You’re lucky to have found a career where you can make people happy by giving them an oasis and surround yourself by passionate people who love what they do. Get to know your plants, the best way is through growing them yourself; don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Take advantage of networking with as many professionals in the industry as possible, because the great thing about horticulturist is most people are willing to share their knowledge to better the profession. Get a good mentor you look up to that will set you in the right path.

What do you look forward to?

I’m looking forward to exploring more natural plant habitats around the world and seeing how plants are growing in their natural homes.


Thank you Austin for your interview!  ~ Eric


A study of detail: El Escorial, Madrid

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North of Madrid, standing at the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, is the enormous complex known as the Escorial Monastery, which was built at the end of the 1500’s. Originally created as the retreat of King Philip II, the historical Spanish site includes a monastery and is surrounded on two sides with formal gardens.  These gardens, which were built on a large terrace, hug right up against the vast and impressive building, softening the transition into the open mountainous landscape just beyond the reaches of the palace. Scale and proportion are functions in unity between the building and the garden, with perspective playing a key part to the success of its layout.

The finer the view, the simpler the garden should be and this holds true here as the formal gardens are largely made up of clipped hedges, save for the white roses grown against the foundation of the immense building. In the past, the beds between the hedges were filled with bedding plants to look like beautiful carpets when viewed from the windows above, though this type of planting is no longer executed.  All is not lost on the design though, as the long unbroken walks used throughout are perfect for strolling and philosophizing, which was probably the purpose this garden served when the king walked these gardens during his time..


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5 Favorite Tips

Zinnias1.   Joyous and carefree as the halcyon summer days can be, zinnias bedazzle us with their unabashed brilliance.  They look as if a child had gone unsupervised with a box of 1000 Crayola crayons, coloring with singular doggedness each flower. Zinnias are a fitting preclude before….. (Zappy Zinnias)

Magnolia petals2. Each year happens the same, the weather gets warmer and before we know it,  we are  barraged by this festival of blooms called springtime. It seems there is barely enough time to enjoy one flower display before the next one is vying for our attention, screaming out our name to be looked at and admired. Or, we can see this as the moment you can push the boundaries of  bloom time…. (Pushing Bloom Boundaries)

Cut Iceland poppies stand out against the pop art painting (private home, Tasmania, Australia)

Cut Iceland poppies stand out against the pop art painting (private home, Tasmania, Australia)

3. Poppies are best cut early in the morning when the bud begins to reveal some color. They then should be  plunged into… (Prolonging Cut Poppies)

Myosotis sylvatica

Myosotis sylvatica

4. Don’t forget to take notes, it is important to document your successes and failures including ideas you might want to improve upon for next year in the garden, such as…  (Noting Notes)

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

5. Geranium [Rozanne] = ‘Gerwat’ may be ubiquitous, dethroning ‘Johnson’s Blue’, but it doesn’t preclude it from being…. (Blue and Orange Deux)

Gibraltar: a brief intro

Not all historic gardens are as fortunate as Meadowburn Farm to have careful stewardship and preservation, as well as talent to safeguard against inexorable decline. Gibraltar, named after the rocky outcrop on which the house rests, came into being from the local businessman John Rodney Brinckle during the 1840s. It was not until 1909 when Hugh Rodney Sharp, a keen preservationist and horticulturist, and his wife Isabella Mathieu du Pont Sharp purchased the property did the existing buildings and grounds were expanded considerably. Furthermore Gibraltar gained horticultural attention after the Sharps engaged Marian Coffin to design the estate’s gardens. Coffin’s connection with the Sharps certainly came through her association with Sharp’s brother-in-law Henry Francis DuPont whose estate Winterhur Coffin had designed its formal gardens.
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 Coffin partitioned the garden into two parts: the first being an English-style landscape park; the second a Beaux Arts garden realized as a series of elegant terraces sweeping down to a formal flower garden with roses, statuary, and a temple. In latter do we see the influence of the landscape architect and MIT professor Guy Lowell’s teachings on Coffin – the straight strong axes and lines and the use of statuary to create focal points and truncate long views. Lowell wrote in American Gardens (1902): “One of [design] principles, as we saw in the case of the gardens of the Renaissance, was to continue the lines of the house out into the grounds and thus to make the garden an outdoor room, bounded by hedge and wall in such a way as to make its proportions pleasing, and decorated not only with trees, shrubs and flowers, but with fountains, statues and vases, which offer a pleasing contrast to the vegetation.”  Although the garden was somewhat unkempt on the edges, the structural beauty of Coffin’s design still shone and reinforced the overarching principle that “simplicity is beauty’s prime ingredient.” Unlike other estates that sometimes rest awkwardly with their gardens, the garden at Gibraltar runs parallel with the now-dilapidated mansion in a harmonious linear arrangement. Not surprisingly, Lowell stressed the importance of relating the garden’s direction with the house: “The direction of the garden with reference to the house is also important. The view as seen from the house should, generally speaking, follow the direction of the garden, that is to say, should be parallel to the long axis rather than at right angles to it.” What Coffin took from Lowell’s design principles was to refine them specifically for the sites she was tasked to survey and design, and using her horticultural training at the Arnold Arboretum fleshed out the structural features with rich plantings. Coffin was the rare landscape architect who both possessed the draftsmanship and site engineering and the horticultural knowledge, and Gibraltar, like her other gardens, was no exception.
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Unlike Winterthur and Longwood Gardens, Gibraltar never became a wealthy beneficiary of the family’s financial legacy. In fact it was nearly demolished had not Preservation Delaware valiantly led efforts to restore and open the garden to the public. Unfortunately the initial phase of restoration and planting appeared to have exhausted the funding with no foresight for subsequent maintenance. The mansion, somewhat vandalized and currently boarded up, awaits the developers’ original plan to turn it into a cafe or a place for social events. Despite the estate’s precarious status, the garden itself is worth the glimpse of Coffin’s trademark style and the Country Place Era.  ~Eric

Anatomy of a Garden: Meadowburn Farm

The house today at Meadowburn Farm

The house today at Meadowburn Farm

To restore a historic garden is to play the roles of archaeologist, historian, and horticulturist all at once – one must carefully recover the remnants from years of neglect and decay, understand the creator’s style and philosophy, and recognize the surviving desirable plants among the weeds. It is a monumental task that Quill faced with magnanimity upon taking on Meadowburn Farm.

The bones of the garden, however illegible underneath tree roots and overgrown shrubbery, persist, and archives, the tangible documents of the creator, hopefully preserved and catalogued elsewhere. Hardy plants from an era still eke out a brave existence and may be linked to cultivars lost to cultivation. A team of eight gardeners once tended the estate under Mrs. Ely’s direction; today the same responsibility falls on Quill and her small team.


 The Formal Garden

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Very little of Ely’s original plantings survive to this day – the boxwood hedges and Catalpa standards have all, but disappeared and native goldenrods and weeds encroached where perennials and biennials petered out. The pergola has not changed, although the arches are now blurred from the rampant growth of the wisteria. However the Virginia creeper that once decorated the colonnade is gone, although it is still found in the neighboring woods.

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To rid of the Formal Garden the perennial weeds like bindweed and Pinellia, Quill dug up the entire beds and saved, cleaned and transplanted the worthwhile plants temporarily to the Picking Garden. She then began the slow, but necessary process of spraying herbicide and using a cover crop to suppress any remnant weeds. It is a time-consuming process that can save years of headache from controlling perennial weeds in old gardens. Tom Coward faced the same challenge of eradicating bindweed at Gravetye Manor when he undertook serious restoration of the garden – the beds were dug up, sprayed, and planted with annuals because perennials infested with bindweed are difficult to clean.

The Evergreen Garden

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The Evergreen Garden is entirely devoid of flowers for good reason – Mrs. Ely wanted to demonstrate the beauty of evergreens, particularly conifers. In the Practical Flower Garden, she wrote: “All evergreens inspire me with a feeling almost akin to worship, possibly a heathen trait which has survived generations of civilization, so that it is a great trial to me not to be able to grow the evergreen family successfully.” Despite the climate Ely’s perseverance led to a  few of the conifers, Juniperus virginiana and Tsuga canadensis, successfully establishing and surviving neglect and deer to give the Evergreen Garden a protective enclosure of greens. However, the scale has changed – no longer do the different conifers (presumably dwarf varieties) in the left of the historic photograph exist (probably shaded out by the trees) nor does the hedge appear discernible in the right photograph. The stone terrace have lost its definition, and the fruit stone urns now are out of sight rather than flanking the steps.

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Slowly step by step is the Evergreen Garden beginning to regain its former semblance during Ely’s time. The misplaced Colorado blue spruce has been removed, permitting a clear view of the stone reliefs behind the fountain. On the left, fencing has been set up to confine the goats to the area in need of clearance from undergrowth.

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Quill has reinstated the original Thuja hedge to screen the adjacent road. The hedge has been planted with a mixture of ‘Green Giant’ and ‘Steeplechase’ to create privacy within reasonable time.


The Stone Terrace in the Evergreen Garden

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Already buckling from the tree roots, the stone terrace was initially covered with moss, grasses, and weeds that took advantage of organic debris accumulated over the years between the crevices. Quill cleaned the stone terrace of its vegetative covering and this past autumn her mother assisted with leveling the stones (no easy job that called for heavy lifting, crowbar, and spade).


The Picking Garden

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The central axis of the Picking Garden is relatively unchanged prior to Quill’s arrival. In 2012, the dahlias were not tied regularly and their stems heavy with flowers flailed without support. However, Meadowburn Farm was running on limited help and the gardeners, especially Walter DeVries did keep the plants going from year to year. When Quill stepped in full-time in 2013, the dahlias received greater attention and the cedar stakes are scarcely visible. In addition, the turf path was mowed and the beds were edged.

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A decision was made to remove the turf pathway in favor of a gravel pathway since wear and tear from frequent foot traffic was causing turf to die back in sporadic spots. Turf maintenance then was lessened, leaving Quill and her team to concentrate their energies elsewhere. The beds also received generous amendments of compost, causing a tremendous improvement in vigor and flowering of the dahlias (plants were high as 7′ tall and could be seen across the road). It enabled Quill to supply cut dahlias for florists in New York City, a source of revenue for Meadowburn.

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Dating from 1917, the original 160′ Thuja hedge (Thuja occidentalis ‘Nigra’) (far northwest corner of the photograph), which divides the Picking Garden from the Formal Garden, had lost its linear symmetry as age and bad weather decimated some plants.

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In fall 2013, a new hedge replaced the old one, returning the garden a sense of structure.


Natural Weed Control at Meadowburn Farm

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Unwanted weeds, especially perennial and woody ones, are sometimes difficult to eradicate in neglected gardens, and unfortunately poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) (in autumn glory on the left photograph) is a constant battle for Quill to remove from the garden. Anyone who has suffered from a bout of poison ivy can attest to the irritating painful rash from the plant’s sap. Cue in goats who will happily devour poison ivy, and Quill brought in two young goats named Moses and Tucker (the right photograph) to rid areas infested with poison ivy, barberries, and other weeds. However, the goats will not touch Ageratina altissima (syn. Eupatorium rugosum), a white-flowering herb poisonous to livestock. Because goats eat almost indiscriminately, fencing is needed to confine them and protect the garden from being emptied of its desired ornamental plants.

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The tactic of using goats as green machines is surprisingly effective when one sees the results afterwards. The photograph above shows how this slope once covered with barberries and other weeds has been cleared, saving manpower elsewhere where goats cannot be used.


Photographic Credits: Historic Photographs – Walter DeVries and B. Danforth Ely; Before Photographs – Quill Teal-Sullivan