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


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

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


IMG_4173Please introduce yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Thank you Kate!
~ Eric
 

Plantsman’s Corner: Darmera peltata

 DSC_8178_final

I was walking in Salzburg University’ s small but quaint botanical garden a while ago when I stumbled upon two young gardeners (students?) cutting back a big patch of Darmera peltata.  My initial thought was why destroy such a beautifully established plantation, but as kept  walking along the waterway that separates the garden in two, I realized that it had maybe taken over too much ground and needed to give space over to others.  Darmera is not an invasive plant but it certainly knows how to fight its ground. It is very competitive and precious little can dislodge it once established. I left a clump unattended for more than 10 years in a field and when I went back, nothing had succeeded in growing through it, not even tree saplings.

The Darmera rhizomes are very tightly wound together that weeds and other plants have a difficult time establishing a foothold in an established Darmera colony.

The Darmera rhizomes are very tightly wound together that weeds and other plants have a difficult time establishing a foothold in an established Darmera colony.

This giant saxifrage used to be known under the descriptive name of Peltiphyllum (from the Greek peltos, shield, and phyllos, leaf) for its beautiful round plate-size leaves (glossy and slightly concave, unlike the similar but matte and convex Astilboides).  It had just changed name when I encountered it for the first time as a burgeoning gardener twenty years ago.

Darmera is a great bog plant that offers a good contrasting shape to reeds, irises, cattails and other linear marsh dwellers.  It is very easy to grow and although it relishes mud (even if it won’t survive with its rhizomes submerged in water), it will grow happily in ordinary garden soil. It will grow in full sun if the soil is damp, but prefers shade during the hottest part of the day. Although the plant is amenable to drier conditions, the foliage can start to look tired early on and flowering is diminished considerably. Darmera is normally grown as a foliage plant and advertised as such, but under auspicious conditions flowering is abundant and a beautiful sight.

Darmera peltata close up HQEarly in spring, its large pink umbels emerge from the mud on tall crimson stalks.  It is a welcome burst of life at a time of year when little else is out in the bog garden. I have been hopeful to find a white form somewhere but thus far none has materialized.  Perhaps if one went scourging its natural habitat on the West Coast of America in April, one might get lucky.  I haven’t come across a variegated sport either. The only variation I am aware is of a dainty dwarf form aptly called ‘Nana’.  I cannot establish how it originated but it has been around for a long time in the United Kingdom.  Despite its long period of cultivation, ‘Nana’ remains a rarity as it is a very slow growing plant.  Unlike the species, it needs a rich humid spot to do well and does not take kindly to dry conditions. Yet ‘Nana’ is a darling plant that fills a niche since most wetland plants are too aggressive and/or invasive for small ponds.  Its foliage also takes on colourful shades in the autumn more readily than the species and it is often ablaze with golden yellow and red in October here.

Darmera peltata 'Nana'

Darmera peltata ‘Nana’

Both the species and its dwarf form will take a few years to reach their full potential.  One can expect the foliage to be much shorter and smaller the first year and sometimes even the second year after planting. Darmera is not a plant that needs dividing often, mine has been in the same place for nearly 20 years and retains all its vigor.  Some books say that it gets thin in the center after a while, but that’s not my experience or what I have observed from other gardens. New rhizomes seem to fill gaps made by old ones that die out and the clumps remain dense for very many years.

Darmera peltata is one of the rare herbaceous perennials whose foliage will turn beautifully coppery red in autumn.

Darmera peltata is one of the rare herbaceous perennials whose foliage will turn beautifully coppery red in autumn.

As I looked at the Darmera removal operation in Salzburg, a second thought came to my mind.  These gardeners were going to need a lot of will power to dig this network of rhizomes after they finish cutting back the foliage.  They did not seem very enthusiastic, let’s hope there was machinery available nearby.

~ Philippe Lévesque

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.
GibCollage
 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.
GibPort
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

5-10-5: Quill Teal-Sullivan, Garden Manager at Meadowburn Farm

UPDATE:
Quill is now the Director of Historic Preservation at Dunn Gardens, Seattle, Washington State.


Like her classmate Wonsoon Park, Quill Teal-Sullivan was a Longwood Graduate Program student whom I became acquainted at various public garden events in the Philadelphia region. Her graduate studies led to her current position as the garden manager of Meadowburn Farm in northwest New Jersey, a stone’s throw from the New York State border. A West Coast transplant from Seattle, Washington State, Quill comes from a very creative family – her mother is a garden designer and horticulturist, her father a potter and architect, and her sister an artist and designer!  Her boundless energy and enthusiasm comes across in her work and her personality! I was very fortunate to have her company during my too brief idyllic stay at the garden.


DSC_0555

Can you introduce yourself?
Hello, my name is Quill. I was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. I currently direct the preservation efforts of the 130-year-old gardens at Meadowburn Farm, which were designed and built by Helena Rutherfurd Ely.


 

Left unshorn for a long time, the boxwood have acquired oddly rotund shapes that only enhances the garden's character; the Virginia creeper is already showing its beautiful scarlet autumn foliage among the trees. The entire scene conveys the garden's pastoral settling and its age.

Left unshorn for a long time, the boxwood have acquired oddly rotund shapes that only enhances the garden’s character; the Virginia creeper is already showing its beautiful scarlet autumn foliage among the trees. The entire scene conveys the garden’s pastoral settling and its age.

The arts or the garden?
Gardens as art!


 

What is your first gardening experience?
I have been gardening alongside my mother for as long as I can remember. When I was around 5 years old she gave my sister and I our own little garden beds where we could plant anything we wanted. I planted sky blue delphiniums that grew so big!


 

Baking and gardening are analogous - both are gradual processes that can produce beautiful results.

Baking and gardening are analogous – both are gradual processes that can produce beautiful results.

You worked in Seattle bakeries prior to your full dive into horticulture. Baking and gardening are nearly analogous – both, being an art and science, require patience, nurturing, and senses. As far fetched as it seems, how has baking help you become a better gardener?

It is so very true that gardening and baking have much in common, and it seems that people who enjoy gardening often enjoy baking. Although, in the early mornings when the sun rises and the birds awake, the bakers day is ending while the gardeners day is just beginning. This fact makes a world of difference. I would say that, more than anything else, my experience as a professional baker gave me great practice in putting my work out for the public to see, experience, and critique. This took me a long time to be comfortable with – to be accepting of potential failure for all to taste and see. I feel the same way about gardening sometimes. Especially as there is point in both gardening and baking when you have to relinquish some degree of control over your product: when the cake goes into the oven or the bulb is planted in the ground – you have to let go and hope for the best.


As important as the garden is, the bucolic setting is a crucial part of preservation efforts. The farm gained entry to Sussex County farmland preservation program in 2009, securing its future against future development. Unfortunately funding for this country farmland preservation program has dwindled, and subsequent open space and farmlands are likely shut off.

As important as the garden is, the bucolic setting is a crucial part of preservation efforts. The farm gained entry to Sussex County farmland preservation program in 2009, securing its future against future development. Unfortunately funding for this country farmland preservation program has dwindled, and subsequent open space and farmlands are likely shut off.

Deb Wiles, who has long been an advocate of garden history and design, lamented the fact that garden history is not offered as a separate discipline, like art history. Programs exist in UK, but not in US, yet you were able to tailor your dissertation at Longwood Graduate Program towards garden history and preservation. How did your topic come about and how were you able to convince your academic advisors/mentors about the topic’s merit?

One of the great things about the Longwood Graduate Program (LGP) is that students tailor their thesis and coursework according to their individual interest and career goals within public horticulture. I applied for LGP wanting to focus in garden history having been inspired by my time working in historic gardens. I liked the idea of focusing my research on one landscape – it was an opportunity to become intimate with a specific site. I asked Bill Noble, formerly of the Garden Conservancy, if he had any recommendations, and he connected me with the owners of Meadowburn Farm. It caught my interest, especially since the garden was designed by a woman. So, out I went to visit Meadowburn and fell head over heels with the garden. My excitement about it was enough to convince Dr. Lyons, my advisor, that this was the topic for me. The trickier part was convincing two very kind professionals to join my thesis committee and commit to reading and editing 300 pages of research.

The Pool Garden remains remarkably the same as it was depicted in old photographs.

The Pool Garden remains remarkably the same as it was seen in old photographs.

Gardens seem to still take the back seat behind art and architecture in our culture. I would have loved the opportunity to take more focused garden history courses in school. In LGP, I complimented the more traditional coursework with general architectural preservation courses, and used individual assignments to apply the lessons to gardens and landscapes. In a sense, this likely helped me be more rounded in my knowledge than I would have been in a strictly garden history course. But, it does not provide the stimulation of working with a professor and classmates in the same discipline. Attending historic landscape symposia was another way I could learn more about the field. I also reached out to several landscape architecture historians at universities throughout the country, all of whom were very supportive and gave of their time and thoughts generously – almost like private tutorials.

 

Historical photographs are priceless for seeing the original designs and the changes afterwards. Had Mrs. Ely not published her books, sole dependency on secondhand personal accounts is not reliable for re-imagining the garden in its former self. Quill's meticulous research has unearthed exciting documentation.

The Formal Garden at Meadowburn depicted in A Woman’s Hardy Garden; Historical photographs are priceless for seeing the original designs and the changes afterwards. Had Mrs. Ely not published her books, re-imagining the garden in its former self would have been difficult from sole dependency on secondhand personal accounts. Quill’s meticulous research has unearthed exciting documentation.

In our digital era, the notion of talking to people first-hand and leafing through dusty volumes for research seems archaic. But researching a history of a garden is a fun mystery! What aspects of the research did you enjoy the most? And what fascinating information did you discover about Helena Rutherford Ely during your research?

Such a fun mystery! Researching the history of Ely and Meadowburn was the most exciting and rewarding part of my thesis project. In the beginning I was told there was very little information out there about Ely and Meadowburn. There are no ‘Helena Rutherfurd Ely’ papers in a library anywhere. The Garden Club of America created an archive on Meadowburn at the Smithsonian in 1999, which compiled the limited information that was known to exist. In it was a reference to Ely’s grandson who I was able to find. He and his wife were very generous with sharing the information they had on Ely – including a guest book from Meadowburn dating from 1899 to 1917!! A treasure! This [lead] opened a Pandora’s box of new things to look into. That was a very exciting discovery.

I often followed strange leads – like researching people that she mentions in her books, or the publishers she worked with, or the seed companies she ordered from. This meant there were very frequently days spent in libraries that turned up no information at all. But, oh! the joy when I found something! One time I came across a box of original photographs of the garden in an archive with not a single mention of Meadowburn or Ely – just sheer luck. I started shaking from excitement and overwhelm – I had to put the pictures down because I thought my shaking hands would shred them.

Digitalis (foxgloves) fill the cold frames as seen from the inside of the greenhouse now emptied of its seedlings.

Digitalis (foxgloves) fill the cold frames as seen from the inside of the greenhouse now emptied of its seedlings.

 

Now and then - This image from Ely's A Woman's Hardy Garden shows Digitalis seedlings grown on in a seed bed before being transplanted to their final positions. It is an overlooked technique nowadays, although Great Dixter still raise plants this way and then bed them out in the borders.

Now and then – This image from Ely’s A Woman’s Hardy Garden shows Digitalis seedlings grown on in a seed bed before being transplanted to their final positions. It is an overlooked technique nowadays, although Great Dixter still raise plants this way and then bed them out in the borders.


 

Dahlia 'Helena Rutherford Ely' is one of the Meadowburn dahlias named after its creator. The plants easily top 6', but its decorative flowers are a butterscotch apricot color.

Dahlia ‘Helena Rutherfurd Ely’ is one of the Meadowburn dahlias named after its creator. The plants easily top 6′, but its decorative flowers are a butterscotch apricot color.

Historic cultivars, such as the Meadowburn dahlias, are always prone to falling out of favor and lost to cultivation. How do you plan on safeguarding the historic cultivars at Meadowburn?

I believe the best way is to propagate and distribute the Meadowburn cultivars to other historic gardens, botanic gardens, and collectors, and encourage others to grow and safeguard them, too. The dahlias are particularly precarious as they are easily wiped out in one season. This is why there are not many dahlia cultivars still in existence that date to the early 1900’s, where as there are many old peonies cultivars from this era that are still widely grown and readily available on the market.

Dahlias in the Picking Garden

Dahlias in the Picking Garden

We are fortunate at Meadowburn to have had three generations of the same gardening family caring for the grounds since 1883. Albert Furman, Sr., the first generation gardener, was especially fond of the dahlias, a sentiment inherited by his son, and then passed to his grandson as more of an obligation to legacy than a fondness. But Walter DeVries, third generation gardener, has continued to take great care of the Meadowburn dahlias because of the tradition. He is now teaching me about Meadowburn dahlia culture, which comes with many funny anecdotes and stories from over the years – this makes the task of hammering large cedar stakes into the ground quite enjoyable.


DSC_0396

Gardens on the East Coast tend to be rooted in classical tenets of Europe, whereas those on the West Coast combine different cultures, leading to distinct regionalism. What Pacific Northwest perspective do you hope to bring to Meadowburn?

This is a tricky question. Since Meadowburn is a historic landscape inspired by classical tenets of Europe, it would be hard for me to take too much liberty in introducing a Pacific Northwest perspective. But what I appreciate about West Coast gardening culture is that people seem more willing to take risks and work outside the box than on the East Coast. When I first moved East for LGP, I was shocked by the incredible amount of mowed lawn. Never in my life have I seen so much turf! Perhaps this response is indicative of a free and informal West Coast influence – and I imagine this will manifest subconsciously in my work at Meadowburn. Stay tuned!


Clockwise starting left: Miens Ruy; Beth Chatto; Beatrix Farrand; Marian Coffin (Image Credits: http://www.tuinenmienruys.nl; http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/page/beth-chatto-2; College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley; Winterthur)

Clockwise starting left: Miens Ruy; Beth Chatto; Beatrix Farrand; Marian Coffin (Image Credits: http://www.tuinenmienruys.nl; http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/page/beth-chatto-2; College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley; Winterthur)

When we think of eminent women in garden design or landscape architecture, we often think of those overseas, especially Gertrude Jekyll, Beth Chatto, or Mien Ruys. It seems that our rich tradition of American women in garden design and landscape architecture (i.e. Helena Rutherfurd Ely, Rose Standish Nichols, Beatrix Farrand) has not been accorded the same recognition and fame. Why do you suppose that this oversight is such?

Europe had a head start in the field of landscape design and horticulture, and gardening continues to play a much more central role culturally, at least in the U.K, than in U.S. Europe is also more advanced with issues of gender equality than the U.S., which plays a big role in the recognition of women in any professional field.

On another note, prominence in garden history for women might be correlated with the interest of an individual or group who recognizes the significance of her work. Is it my understanding that Gertrude Jekyll’s return to fame was in the second half of the 20th century when her papers, which had been saved by Beatrix Farrand, became accessible. This allowed scholars to research and publish on her work, and thus revive her story. And there is now new light shown on Beatrix Farrand with the work of organizations like the Beatrix Farrand Society. In time she will be increasingly recognized. So perhaps women in garden history need champions to resurrect and tell their stories. I hope to be Ely’s champion.


 

Modern petunia hybrids lack the fragrance of older varieties (the scent inherited from Petunia axillaris) that likely existed in Ely's time. In the picking garden, the old-fashioned climbing petunias line the gravel pathway. So rambunctious is their growth that Quill have to prune them!

Modern petunia hybrids lack the fragrance of older varieties (the scent inherited from Petunia axillaris) that likely existed in Ely’s time. In the picking garden, the old-fashioned climbing petunias line the gravel pathway. So rambunctious is their growth that Quill has to prune them!

Historic gardens are often criticized for being ‘ossified’ or ‘frozen in the past’. It’s a difficult task for horticulturists to innovate without disrupting the historical precedents, yet had the original owners or gardeners been alive, they would have moved forward, using better plants or even removing overgrown trees. How do you plan on keeping one eye on the garden’s historical legacy and the other on the future?

I hope to balance the preservation of the physical aspects of garden with the preservation of her greater gardening philosophy – one of experimentation, trial and error, change, conservation, practicality (more or less), and nostalgia. Ely was on the cutting edge for her time, and she would certainly be the first to rip everything out and change the garden up, I am sure! Ely had a very strong vision, one that influenced gardens throughout the country at a very formative time in the history of American horticulture. And the historical context in which she built these gardens and wrote about them is an important element in the garden’s significance. But to recreate the gardens as they were in 1903 or 1916 would be impractical. The bones of the garden still exist – hedges, hardscape, fountains, statuary, etc., and restoring these elements is important. But within this structure there is flexibility to creatively interpret her vision and philosophy.

The stump of a deceased beech behind the house - a young beech tree has been planted to take its place nearby.

The stump of a deceased beech behind the house – a young beech tree has been planted to take its place nearby.


Historic preservation and public access are never easy bedfellows yet both must coexist if support for our historic heritage needs to be gained - the stone reliefs in the Evergreen Garden are fine for the time being, but increased visitation may cause irreparable damage through unsupervised handling.

Historic preservation and public access are never easy bedfellows yet both must coexist if support for our historic heritage needs to be gained – the stone reliefs in the Evergreen Garden are fine for the time being, but increased visitation may cause irreparable damage through unsupervised handling.

Opening or preparing a historic garden for public visitation is not without its challenges. Heavy foot traffic can damage turf, plants once flowing onto the paths become hazards, and wheelchair access is difficult in some parts. How do you aim to preserve the atmosphere of Meadowburn without compromising public access?

Whatever changes and improvements are made to the landscape must be in keeping with the character of the garden. That is what makes Meadowburn special. As one of the owners says, “We do not want to look like an institution”. This may mean that we will never be 100% accessible. We do not have a complete plan yet for visitor amenities and circulation, but my hope is to have one accessible route through the garden that is interesting throughout the season. We plan to ease into public visitation – starting with limited tours by appointment. This will help inform us of the limitations of the garden, and what further changes should be made. A critical part of our plan, and my job, is to generate revenue from the garden. This means that some areas will need to accommodate events in a way they were not originally designed for. But we are fortunate to have a lot of open space, both in the garden and surrounding the garden, so I do not anticipate it will be difficult to integrate these new uses.


What advice do you offer to those interested in garden history and conservation?
Read a lot. There are so many great books about historic gardens and designers available. Attend lecture series and symposia. Get involved in a historic garden or conservation organizations. Reach out to people in the field and ask for advice. Take your favorite garden historian out for coffee. And most fun of all, visit lots of gardens.


 

Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska, one of Quill's inspiring natural areas

Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska, one of Quill’s inspiring natural areas

What gardens and places have inspired you?
The redwood forests of Mendocino, California. The wildflower meadows of the Talkeetna Mountain range in Alaska. My mother’s garden in Seattle. Quirky nurseries owned by passionate plant nuts.


 

Dahlia 'Meadowburn Byba Vincenza' named after the Italian woman who loved and gardened at Meadowburn.

Dahlia ‘Meadowburn Byba Vincenza’ named after the Italian woman who loved and gardened at Meadowburn.

Ely is a well-seasoned traveler who interpreted what she saw overseas in her garden. What are a few of the gardens overseas you wish to visit and want to take from them?
More than anything I want to visit the gardens abroad that inspired Ely. This will help me better understand her work at Meadowburn. I also want to spend time in Italy researching the current owner’s great Aunt Byba Vincenza Giuliani who owned Meadowburn after the Ely family. She was Italian, and spent the winters at her villa and gardens in Florence. She introduced her own flare to Meadowburn – she planted all of our bearded iris in the 1940’s. I would like to understand her influence and this part of Meadowburn’s history. And then I would like to go to Jeju Island in South Korea to see my friend Wonsoon Park, which he says is the most beautiful place in the world. Then to South Africa to visit my friend Martin Smit at Stellenbosch Botanic Garden, and see him float his baby girl on a water lily pad.


What is your desert island plant?
A giant redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, because I could climb up to a nice branch and make a big nest to sleep in. And the canopy is an ecosystem in itself – berries and rhodies and little trees grow in the nooks and crannies, and little animals to make friends with. Then I would climb to the top and wave to the rescue plane overhead.


The view towards the gate from the wisteria arbor is the same as it was from Mrs. Ely's time.

The view towards the gate from the wisteria arbor is the same as it was from Mrs. Ely’s time.

What do you look forward to the most?
I look forward to the day when I have a garden of my own, and the time to make it everything I want it to be. And then, to have people come and visit me in my garden and to serve them lime popsicles. Eventually I look forward to gardening with my children and grandchildren, but that is a long way off.


 

Thank you Quill!

~Eric

Autumn Wildflower Muses

Dear Jimmy,

How are you? I hope that you’re well and are enjoying what Gravetye offers as its last seasonal hurrah – the bounty of the walled kitchen garden, the borders bustling with dahlias, grasses, asters, the misty landscapes. It is the same here at Chanticleer. Looking for a respite away from the city and its suburbs, I accepted an invitation to spend the weekend at a friends’ Poconos retreat. The last time I visited, it was summer and we had an evening campfire after a day of cooking and swimming. Although autumn had not made its official start, the night was chilly, motivating us to lit the fireplace for toasty temperatures.  The sumach (Rhus typhina) had already turned aflame and traces of red appeared on the red maple (Acer rubrum). At the farmers’ market, I bought decorative gourds and apples while trying to resist cider donuts. It would be the last week for stone fruit and tomatoes. On the drive back, we saw that the fields were already colorful from autumn wildflowers. It occured to me that some of them have been muses for early 19th century American writers.

Milkweeds (Ascelpias syriaca) and goldenrods (Solidago) signal the start of autumn in a roadside meadow.

Milkweeds (Ascelpias syriaca) and goldenrods (Solidago) signal the start of autumn in a roadside meadow.

Grows a weed

More richly here besides our melllow seas

That is autumn’s harbringer and pride…

The goldenrod upon a thousand hills

This is the autumn’s flower, and to my soul

A  token fresh of beauty and life

by Richard  Watson Gilder

Goldenrods were at their best, making me wonder briefly why they haven’t gained acceptance in contemporary naturalistic plantings. It’s a shame that their thuggish tendencies in the garden lead to their exclusion, but for good reasons. I once grew Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ with Sedum ‘Matrona’, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, and Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ until I had to remove it from spreading into other plants. Pulling any goldenrod needs a good dose of strength – their roots run untrammeled and deep! Now I’m happy to see them brilliantly  golden and buzzing with insects in open meadows.

Particular about its habitat preferences, the fringed gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) is a true blue, a catchy color amidst the yellows and reds of the landscape.

Particular about its habitat preferences, the fringed gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) is a true blue, a catchy color amidst the yellows and reds of the landscape.

The GENTIAN weaves her fringes,

The maple’s loom is red.

My departing blossoms

Obviate parade

by Emily Dickinson

Under flawless blue skies, we pulled over by the roadside to admire up-close the colonies of the fringed gentian (Gentianopsis crinita). I remembered seeing this gentian in upstate New York when my naturalist friend and I drove to a wildflower preserve where the flowers lit up the tawny meadow like sapphires. Individual plants are short-lived, growing only a year or two, but will reseed if happy and given the right conditions. The fringed gentian is somewhat particular in its habitat requirements, preferring shallow, magnesium-rich soils in moist sunny meadows, and strangely has found disturbed roadsides to its liking. It’s amazing how a rather nondescript plant can abide its time for a year and wait the following year until late summer to mid-autumn to flower.  Once  those 1 1/2″ to 2″ flowers reveal their fringed and spreading tubular flowers, the long wait is forgotten. Blue flowers always carry that rarified air and the fringed gentian’s specific needs remind me of how we labor to grow blue poppies or delphiniums well. In this case we need not to toil for the flowers, enjoying them as the 19th century writers William Cullen Bryant, Emily Dickinson, and Henry David Thoreau did once on a blue sunny autumn day. It seems a bit melancholy to discover how rare the fringed gentian are due to habitat loss.

Aster_novae_angliae

Born to the purplest purple, deep, intense,

Mocking the gentian’s fringe with hue more rare,

New England Aster! – What can be more fair! –

Child of the ripe year’s calm, serene, suspense,

Star of September’s glory!  say, O whence,

‘Mid golden-rod, and golden sunflower’s blaze,

Comes the deep tone of those cyanic rays,

For long-lost violet more than recompense?

by George Lansing Taylor

New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) were flowering as well, their regal purples a foil to the goldenrods and grasses. I can’t be without asters now. They can be forgiven for their tatty mildewed leaves and splayed centers in exchange for their late seasonal flowers. The Europeans have a better appreciation for our asters – have a look at the Autumn Garden at Le Jardin de Plume where asters are like cloudscapes from which grasses, Persicaria orientalis, and bugbanes (Actaea) fly forth. It’s interesting to observe how lanky the unadulterated New England aster is since breeding clearly has shortened the stems, making for a fuller dome shape. However, I find its wild lankness in the open fields a visual advantage for towering over neighboring plants. Having said that, I used to look carefully in search of variants worth introducing, a rather fruitless endeavor if you consider the New England aster’s European education!

I find it comforting to see the same wildflowers that were muses to our country’s early writers, especially in the apocalyptic sounding  times of climate change.

Not all the autumnal fame belongs to leaves in trees - the extinct Franklinia alatamaha still offers its camellia-like blossoms late in the year.

Not all the autumnal fame belongs to leaves in trees – the extinct Franklinia alatamaha still offers its camellia-like blossoms late in the year.

On a last note, do you know Franklinia alatamaha? At my friends’ Philadelphia garden, it was covered with white flowers that always evoke camellias or stewartias, both of which share the same family Theaceace. The seed capsules have a curious zig zag shape worthy of a jewelry design. Up north in the Boston area, the leaves turn scarlet at the same time as the flowers. I have not seen this tree in the British Isles, which may not have the summer heat for growth. Franklinia has a storied history linked to Philadelphia as the Philadelphian botanists John Bartram and his son William discovered it along the banks of the Altamaha River in Georgia. Shortly after the Bartrams introduced the tree to cultivation, Franklinia was never rediscovered despite a second sighting in the 1770s. Sadly its extinction in the wild meant no posthumous eulogies spun by our writers even if its fame as the ‘lost camellia’ prevented its obscurity.

Take care, 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

Pinxterblooms

Rhododendron_periclymenoides_against_the_sky

May brings the first flowering presence from our native deciduous azaleas in woodlands along the East Coast U.S. Their delicacy is a welcome antidote to the brasher, bolder evergreen azaleas that often grace the American garden, and sadly such subtlety translates to less popularity, despite that our shadier gardens are more accommodating for their cultivation than that of evergreen ones wanting more sun. The British gardeners were rather enthusiastic about these deciduous azaleas especially during the mid 18th century when a fervent following for North American plants saw repeated trans-Atlantic shipments.  One of the first deciduous azaleas sent to England from North America was Rhododendron periclymenoides (pinxterbloom azalea). Calling it ‘red shrub honeysuckle”,  the Pennsylvanian botanist John Bartram dispatched this species, along with R. canescens and R. viscosum to his British collaborator and sponsor Peter Collinson. ‘Red Shrub honeysuckle’ never became adopted as the common name, and pinxterbloom azalea took preference as Pinxter is Dutch for Pentescost (seventh Sunday after Easter), an accurate timing of the flowers.

                     Rhododendron_periclymenoides_in_landscape         Rhododendron_periclymenoides

Each pink flower (1 1/2″ wide) is accentuated by five elongated stamens, tapering outwards like butterfly antennae. In fact, the flowering clusters can be likened to butterflies congregating to feed. Because the leaves are small upon emerging, they do not detract from the floral display. Rhododendron periclymenoides enjoys soft filtered light and moist soil typical of open woodlands. It resents heavy clay soil, therefore amending the soil well or planting in raised beds is recommended. Loose and airy, the habit makes R. periclymenoides a see-thru shrub in the woodland garden. It looks best sprinkled here and there rather than a singular specimen, towering from carpets of white foamflowers (Tiarella), trilliums (Trillium), and ferns.  Prune lightly to thin out some suckers as R. periclymenoides can be stoloniferous.

~E

Delphinium tricorne

Delphinium tricorne

Delphiniums incite reverence for their crystalline blues, purples, and whites rare in the floral world. They seem even rarefied when their temperament is best appeased in cool, cloudy climates. Countless gardeners have coddled delphiniums with variable success  – some, including myself, enduring heartbreak at seeing flowering stems broken from wind and rain or the plants succumbing to summer heat, while others stand elated, like proud parents at their children’s graduation.

North America is home to approximately sixty species, most of which are found in the West Coast and Interior West (Flora of North America Vol. 3). Here in eastern Pennsylvania, we grow Delphinium tricorne. Our native species may not have the wattage power of its gargantuan cousins, yet its deep blue to violet hue more than compensates in intensity. Even a solitary plant can steal the scene in the crowded spring arena. They inhabit deciduous and sloped woodlands, moist ravines, and partially shaded rock sides throughout eastern U.S. (from Pennsylvania to Nebraska and outwards to Minnesota). Their flowering coincides with trilliums, shooting stars (Dodecatheon), foamflowers (Tiarella), and phlox (Phlox divaricata and P. stolonifera), all of which enjoy the same moist woodland conditions.  At Mt. Cuba Center, Greenville, Delaware, drifts of D. tricorne are planted with Polemonium reptans (Jacob’s ladder), the lighter grey-purple of the latter setting off the iridescent violet of the former.

Like other spring ephemerals, D. tricorne disappears in summer until the following spring. The tuberous rootstock allows the plant to withstand drought and multiply vegetatively via offsets. Seed, which resemble tiny black beads,  can be harvested in early summer. They require stratification and seedlings should be left in the containers before they are large enough to transplant individually in pots or in the garden.

~E