Anatomy of a Garden: Stone Arches

Stone Arches derive its name from the front porch of the house. Here the ambient temperature is cool and comfortable, encouraging summer evenings of socializing and relaxation. Each arch creates a different garden view.

Stone Arches derive its name from the front porch of the house. Here the ambient temperature is cool and comfortable, encouraging summer evenings of socializing and relaxation. Each arch creates a different garden view.

Although the winters can be long and snowy, the cooler summers (warm days and cool nights) are perfect for herbaceous perennials and woody plants hardy enough to withstand the climate (Zone 5B to Zone 6A) at Stone Arches. Epimediums, ferns, astilbes, and woodland perennials seem healthier and larger than the equivalents in warmer climates. At the same time warm season, full sun perennials and grasses can be accommodated as well. Stone Arches is deer central, but Mark installed a high deer fence around the perimeter of the property.

DSC_2043

Set in strong drifts, the hillside planting behind the glasshouse is reminiscent of Oehme, van Sweden & Associates’ signature style and Piet Oudolf’s earlier work, but differentiates itself in its addition of trees. Mark carefully chose trees with multi-seasonal interest that complements the herbaceous layer – Stewartia pseudocamellia and Acer griseum (paperbark maple). With their moderate growth, these trees do not increase rapidly enough to shade out the perennials that prefer more light. Seen somewhat in the background, the prayer flags at Dan Hinkley’s Windcliff garden near Seattle, Washington State, inspired Mark to do the same.

MidsummerPerennialPlantings

In grand planting schemes, some plants need monitoring because their declining health or dieback can lead to noticeable visual gaps. Notoriously short-lived, achilleas are tricky. However the site’s light sandy soil should suit these achilleas, although those gardening on clay may struggle to overwinter them. Their corymbs echo the sedums in the lower right corner, and contrast well with Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’, Helenium ‘Dancing Flames’ and Liatris spicata. Schizachyrium scoparium [Blue Heaven] = “MinnblueA” is beginning to send out its inflorescences.

GrassScreens

Book Review: The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden by Roy Diblik

CCF10032014_00000
Behind each creative mastermind is someone who possesses the expertise to obtain the ‘nuts’ and ‘bolts’ for the vision to be realized fully. Just as the fashion designer cannot complete a collection with a team of seamstresses or tailors to execute his designs, the landscape architect or garden designer is dependent on someone who can supply plants for their projects. Midwest plantsman Roy Diblik was tasked to source and grow for the Lurie Garden in 2001 – hardly any nurseries in the Chicago area had the variety, quantity or quality that Piet Oudolf sought. Diblik co-runs Northwind Perennial Farm in Burlington, Wisconsin, a 1 1/2 hour or so drive from Chicago. A Chicago Tribune article in 2010 christened him the ‘perennial persuader’. This ‘perennial persuader’ irrevocably altered Piet Oudolf’s original planting plans, especially after he took him to Schulenberg Prairie at the Morton Arboretum and other Midwest landscapes. Now Diblik aims to proselytizes a wider audience through The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden (Timber Press 2014).
Roy wants his readers to revise their attitudes towards traditional gardening practices where herbaceous perennials are regarded for landscapes. For instance, the conventional method of incorporating manure and compost generously into the topsoil causes herbaceous perennials to senesce prematurely and weeds to prosper instead. Nor does the wood chip mulching benefit perennials.
The first few chapters are the requisite ones that address plant selection, site preparation and planting and maintenance.  Any gardener can tell you that keeping ahead of weeds is always an ongoing battle – and weeds almost always seem to mushroom overnight after a good rainfall. As Diblik points out, weed suppression is an inescapable legacy of agricultural history for every healthy plant community contain few species of high fecundity and rapid colonization, and the rogue’s gallery of worst weeds sandwiched between weed control tactics and maintenance (i.e. watering. division) is useful as horticultural texts often skirt over the culprits.
The list of plants in Chapter 5: Key Plants for Know Maintenance Gardens may attract detractors for its lack of encyclopedic depth, but Diblik makes it clear that his selection fulfill the following criteria: hardiness and reliability in the Midwest and Northwest; adaptability within different climatic and soil variations; gradual beauty over the years. And his selection is on the mark as I have grown a few of the plants like Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’ and Solidago spahecelata ‘Golden Fleece’ in my parents’ former garden and observed them in compromising public spaces repeatedly. Who can argue with a man who introduced Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’, one of the best ornamental grasses? Diblik even gives deserving due to sedges, which are woefully underused in gardens, and their diversity remains untapped for gardens. Narrowing the list to proven performers ensures that his readers have a better rate of success and once gratified, more open to experimentation with experience.
CCF10032014_00002
For those hesitant about using these plants, garden plans either named after places or paintings are included. It is no coincidence that the paintings can be viewed at the Art Institute of Chicago for which Diblik designed the plantings. Cezanne’s The Forest Clearing, a tonal study of green and blue, inspires a sunny planting of Allium (A. atropurpureum, A.  flavum, and A. moly), Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’, Carex flacca, Echinacea ‘Pixie Meadowbrite’,  Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’, Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Moorhexe’, and Sesleria autumnalis. The ‘creative intersection’, the lack of which my blog collaborator Jimmy laments in a recent post, reveals Diblik’s artistic leanings.
Towards the end is a nice acknowledgement of individuals who have influenced, inspired, or worked with Roy in the Midwest US. I would have been interested to read more about the interesting work of these individuals, but that angle is entirely a book in itself. Cassian Schmidt’s gravel garden at Hermannshof, a brilliant garden itself in Germany, is an interesting case study for potential tough areas like parking lots or overscheduled people interested in the beauty of gardens, but lacking time to maintain them.
Photographs, while nowhere dreamy or moody as those in pretty useless books, illustrate the concepts well. They are solid, playing out Diblik’s practices well.
Informative and well organized, the Know Maintenance Perennial Garden rounds out nicely the spate of books regarding ecological or naturalistic gardening and native plants.

Inspiring Tasmanian Plant Vignettes

Sometimes the best antidote to the artifice of gardens is an excursion to a natural area where the human influence is minimal or nonexistent. Wild plant communities can humbly demonstrate how plants coexist together and how they can be interpreted for gardens. Surprisingly they can reflect the principles of planting design well. It was a point driven again during my recent forays in Tasmania, Australia.

Looking across the subalpine vegetation towards the mountains.

Looking across the subalpine vegetation towards the mountains.

My friend and I decided to visit the Hartz Mountains in southwest Tasmania, Australia to see the leatherwoods (Eucryphia lucida and E. milliganii) flowering, and the weather was astonishingly cooperative as it was warm and sunny (my last visit several years was marked by high winds and lashing rainfall). Named after the German mountain ranges, the Hartz Mountains are recognized as a National Park designed as a World Heritage Wilderness Area. The mountains are a good 2 hour-drive from Hobart, Tasmania’s capital city, making for a good day’s trip. They contain varied habitats ranging from moist temperate rainforests to subalpine forests. The oft said expression ‘nature does it better’ is exemplified in the various plant communities we admired in the subalpine forest. Everywhere nature had created these gardensque vignettes that we could not help study.

Left to right: Eucryphia milliganii (dwarf leatherwood), the red-fruited Leptecophylla juniperina (cheeseberry), the silver prickly Richea scoparia (honey richea), Telopea truncata (Tasmanian waratah), and Eucalyptus coccifera (upper right behind Telopea)

Left to right: Eucryphia milliganii (dwarf leatherwood), the red-fruited Leptecophylla juniperina (cheeseberry), the silver prickly Richea scoparia (honey richea), Telopea truncata (Tasmanian waratah), and Eucalyptus coccifera (upper right behind Telopea)

In some areas, different shrubs covered the ground thickly, forming interesting assemblages of foliage, fruit, and flowers that we often strive to replicate in our gardens. Here Telopea truncata (Tasmanian waratah) breaks up the fine small-leafed shrubs, which include Eucryphia milliganii (dwarf leatherwood), Leptecophylla juniperina (cheeseberry), and Richea scoparia (honey richea). Such textural interplay is crucial for all-season interest.

Orites acicularis (yellow bush) on the left, Gahnia grandis (saw sedge grass) on the right, and Cenarrhenes nitida (Port Arthur plum) in central by Lake Osborne

Orites acicularis (yellow bush) on the left, Gahnia grandis (saw sedge grass) on the right, and Cenarrhenes nitida (Port Arthur plum) in central by Lake Osborne

The weathered trunk of a deceased Athrotaxis selaginoides (King Billy pine) is a strong focal point, a silver foil against the yellow and greens of the vegetation while the arching blades of Gahnia grandis (saw sedge grass) reinforces the trunk’s sinuous shape. The vibrant green of Cenarrhenes nitida is a textural and chromatic transition between Gahnia and Orites acicularis (yellow bush) through its foliar color of the former and its whorl-like leaves of the latter. Flowers are simply superfluous.

Without the Richea pandanifolia, the entire group would appear an undifferentiated amorphous mass, despite the fallen logs.

Without the Richea pandanifolia, the entire group would appear an undifferentiated amorphous mass, despite the fallen logs.

Just as we may place an agave or yucca to define a garden, the Richea pandanifolia performs a similar function in this landscape through its visual distinctiveness. Gahnia grandis reads as a vertical form, lending a fluid coarseness different from the Richea.  

A glacial rock outcropping is a dramatic backdrop for Nothofagus cunninghamii (myrtle beech) and Gahnia grandis (saw grass sedge).

A glacial rock outcropping is a dramatic backdrop for Nothofagus cunninghamii (myrtle beech) and Gahnia grandis (saw grass sedge).

Glacial activity had spewed and deposited rocks of immense sizes and asymmetrical shapes throughout the landscape. These rocks are natural backdrops for the vegetation, such as one of Nothofagus cunninghamii (myrtle beech) and Gahnia grandis (saw grass sedge).

Leptospermum lanigerum (woolly tea-tree) underneath Eucalyptus coccifera (Tasmanian snow gum)

Leptospermum lanigerum (woolly tea-tree) underneath Eucalyptus coccifera (Tasmanian snow gum)

The silvery new growth of Leptospermum lanigerum (woolly tea-tree) were emerging, and related well to the mottled trunks of Eucalyptus coccifera (Tasmanian snow gum). Imagine translating this combination in the Northern Hemisphere – silver birches (Betula pendula or B. utilis var. jacquemontii) could stand in for the eucalypts and phillyreas (P. latifolia and P. angustifolia) and Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ for the woolly tea-trees.

DSC_0862

However, nothing can replicate the awe inspiring view of the eucalypt forests from the mountains. This view is one reason why nature will always offer more visually than we can give or take from it.

~Eric

Book Review: On the wild side: experiments in the new naturalism

On the wild side

Since  on the wild side: experiments in the new naturalism has been published nine years ago, it is remarkably prescient in the current ecological ethos that pervades gardens. Keith Wiley is clearly a plantsman at heart, and his chief virtuosity is transcending just as his British compatriots William Robinson and Beth Chatto accomplished with their gardens. Wiley’s new garden, not far from the Garden House, combines plants unconventionally by exploiting microclimates and terrain sculpting.

The book’s major core lies in Wiley’s experiences visiting diverse habitats worldwide and his experiments evoking their beauty at the Garden House, Devon, United Kingdom. South Africa and Crete are particularly rich picking grounds for ideas. It is easy to see how the breathtaking wildflower spectacle in Namaqualand led to the inception of the African Garden, which borrows species native elsewhere.  And the Mediterranean flora, a source of garden plants in British gardens, form picturesque landscapes within rocky and arid terrain. Wiley does not ignore woody plants, and taking a leaf or two from the Chinese and Japanese, emphasizes skillful pruning as a transformative technique for naturalistic, wilder effect. As expected, grasses do receive their star billing in one chapter, but the choices are not restricted to the few genera, such as CalamagrostisMolinia, and Panicum in danger of being cliches in contemporary naturalistic plantings.

Outside of wild places, Wiley finds inspiration in unexpected ways. Who would have anticipated the stone pathway lined with Irish yews at the late Rosemary Verey’s Barnsley House to be a source of an idea? Whether intentional or not, rock roses (Helianthemum) and Acaena microphylla had been permitted to spill forth onto the pathway. Sometimes the tendency to fixate on the obvious sources cause us gardeners to ignore what is realistically achievable and within our local stomping grounds.

At times on the wild side does appear overextended, but such is the degree of Wiley’s enthusiastic knowledge that oversights in specific areas are easily forgiven. This book is a solid visual and informative complement to other books on similar subjects by William Robinson, Beth Chatto, and Noel Kingsbury.

~Eric

Spring Foliage Kaleidoscope

Podophyllum_Allium_Packera

This native trio at Jenkins Arboretum, which includes Podophyllum peltatum (mayapple), Packera aurea (golden ragwort), and Allium tricoccum (ramps), demonstrates the success of intermingling for foliage effect  – the wheel-like Podophyllum leaves appear to pirouette across the planting, the lance-like Allium leaves add linearity, and scalloped leaf margins of Packera is a textural piece de resistance. More so is the green monotony broken up by the mottling of the Podophyllum leaves and the yellow flowers of Packera. The three plants knit together for a effective weed suppressing planting.

Only Packera aurea will persist for the remaining season after Allium and Podophyllum have gone underground.

~E