The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Friday, May 22, 2015

Rousham House and Gardens

Before visiting Pettifers Garden, I stopped to see Rousham House and Gardens in Oxfordshire. I am also hoping to include Rousham in next year’s tour. Rousham Gardens’ reputation preceded my visit. It is arguably one of the finest gardens in England. Rousham remains a private garden and was surprisingly quiet, especially as compared to another landscape garden we visit, Stourhead, which is owned and operated by the National Trust and had hundreds of visitors when we were there last week. I saw perhaps 10 visitors at Rousham and felt as if I had the garden to myself for the morning.

Rousham is an excellent example of an Augustan age (early 18th century when British artists emulated the original Augustan age in Rome 27 BC-14AD) landscape garden and was designed by William Kent (1685-1748). It is recommended to follow the circuit walk, drawn up prior to 1738 by the head gardener, John MacClary. My photographs follow the circuit which takes the visitor around the perimeter of the garden through a series of water features, statues and follies.

Rousham House and Gardens is still owned by the same family that created it and remains precisely as Kent envisioned. The brochure for Rousham says it all: “Rousham is uncommercial and unspoilt with no tea room and no shop. Bring a picnic, wear comfortable shoes and it is yours for the day.”

Rousham House from the Bowling Green

The view from the house with central statue made in 1740.

The Lion and the Horse by P. Scheemaker

The Octagon Pond

The Upper Cascade with a statue of Venus

The Watery Walk

The serpentine rill in the Watery Walk is elegant and feels contemporary even today

The octagonal Cold Bath

Temple of Echo by Kent and Townsend

 Paladian Doorway

View of the house; the ha-ha can barely be discerned

Statue of Apollo

Heyford Bridge 1255

The reverse view of Apollo through The Long Walk

The Lower Cascade with the Upper Cascade above

The Arcade

The ancient hedges that separate the Bowling Green from the Walled Garden

The Walled Garden predates the work of William Kent

The formal Pigeon House Garden

Monday, May 18, 2015

Visiting Pettifers Garden

If Piet Oudolf’s garden and Helen Dillon’s garden had a child, it would surely be Gina Price’s garden, Pettifers. I had the good fortune to visit Pettifers Garden while in England for The Best of English Gardens Tour. I took a day away from the group to do reconnaissance for next year’s tour. 

Pettifers Garden, in Oxfordshire, has been on my radar for several years now. I have spent many hours surveying photographer Clive Nichols' luscious photographs of the garden throughout the seasons on his website. Gina’s head gardener, Polly Stevens, took me on a tour of the garden and it became immediately clear this is a plantwoman’s garden. Gina has lived at Pettifers since 1984, but became interested in gardening after learning about The New Perennial Movement which championed grasses in borders. Over time, grasses and perennials have replaced roses and shrubs. Interestingly, several shrubs, like various Cotinus species, have been slowly added in recent years.

Nothing is sacred in the garden and plants are constantly being moved or replaced if the garden picture isn’t pleasing. Gina has combined grasses, which will peak in the late summer, with flowering perennials in an engagingly loose formality.  To my eye, she combines the best of Oudolf's naturalistic style with Dillon's gorgeous plantings; reinterpreting and combining each style in a unique and fresh way. Gardening friends had recommended that she enclose the garden with walls dividing the garden into rooms which Gina resisted. The result is a garden that has the open feeling which talks full advantage of the magnificent views of the countryside. I would love to visit this garden many times throughout the year and hope to include it in next year's tour.

The view from the house. Cornus alternafolia ‘Variegata’ to the left in the foreground. I hadn’t expected to such an open space in the center of the garden. In the distance, the borrowed landscape of the far hills makes the garden seem much larger than its one and a half acres.

A long border backed by a formal yew hedge.

A stunning foliage combination of epimedium, euphorbia and rodgersia.

The formal, yet contemporary, Parterre Garden has become as iconic as Oudolf’s waved hedges at Hummelo or the central canal at Helen Dillon’s garden in Dublin, Ireland.

An allee of Malus transitoria, the cut-leaf crabapple, was at its absolute peak while I was visiting.

A close up view of the flowers. The almost willow-like foliage was particularly fresh looking.

Cornus controversa ’Variegata’ to right in the lower garden.

Looking up at the house through the Parterre Garden.

A cross-sectional view of the house and retaining wall.

The tulips in the Parterre Garden are a color echo the magnolia that can be seen through the yew ‘chimneys'.

The dark purple of the 'Black Parrot' tulips contrast with the lawn and the chartreuse-foliaged plant at the edge of the border.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Pairs, Spares and Bears

Before plants leaf out is the perfect time to examine the placement of hardscape elements and evergreens in the garden. It is the logical place that I like to begin when I design a garden: make it look good in the the winter and you are off to a good start. New Hampshire granite and round boxwoods are the unifying elements in my garden. I contemplate box placement this time of year; perhaps too much. My garden has many classical symmetrical design elements. There are multiple focal points in the garden that call for some symmetry. In the Upper Garden, I placed a pair of boxwoods to frame the focal point, a Cornus officinalis tree. The symmetry was too 'perfect' and several years later, I added another single boxwood creating symmetry and asymmetry simultaneously. I call it 'a pair and a spare'. In other parts of the gardens I have designed, I have placed boxwoods in 'one', 'twos' and 'threes'. When I do that, it reminds me of the three bears; Papa bear, Mama bear, and Baby bear. In the Upper Garden the far end has 'a pair and a spare'. To the right there is a 'two' or a Mama bear/Baby bear combo and a single 'one' by itself to the far right.

The pair of stewartias on either side of the granite bench focal, a central focal point, were supposed to be symmetrical. However, I planted them from seed collected at the Arnold Arboretum and they were siblings with the same mother but different fathers. Clones would have been symmetrical, if I had thought of that, I may have done that. For many years there different size and bark attributes of each plant bothered me. A couple years ago, I added a third very small stewartia to the right of the midline. The third stewartia created a simultaneous symmetrical and asymmetric dynamic again.

The Upper Garden from the bedroom window. The tumble of boxwoods appear to be 'rolling" down the hill in the Hall with Balls

A pair and a spare configuration looking into the Hall with Balls from the Upper Garden

A Mama bear/Bady bear combination in the Upper Garden

Balls "rolling" down the hill

Another view looking down the steps in the Hall with Balls

The third stewartia is barely visible from above. I like the idea that the original pair are placed symmetrically and the third smaller tree will create a Papa bear/Mama bear/Baby bear grove one day.

At the steps leading from the Blue Bench Terrace, I planted a pair of cherry trees, Prunus x 'Hally Jolivette’, that will create an archway over time. I added a third on the left, and slightly down hill to create a grove, while the top two trees remain symmetrical. There was just a pair of boxwoods flanking the stairs when I first planted this garden. In some ways it felt too perfect and it didn't stop the eye from proceeding to the next garden. I added a single on the right and a pair, one larger, the other smaller, on the left. I this way, I kept the symmetry and created a grouping at the same time.

This year I began to add a handfull of boxwoods in the lowest garden, the Woodland Garden. I don't want it to appear too formal but I was interested in creating the impression that several balls escaped their formal confines in the two upper gardens and rolled into the wild garden. Time will tell if this was a good idea.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Narcissus 'Barrett Browning' at Peter's Gate

Last October, we planted Narcissus 'Barrett Browning' in pots and placed them underground for the winter. In mid-April, we moved the plants in bud to the large pots at Peter's Gate in Depot Park. Later this month, we will transplant them into the new garden adjacent to the Bocelli Garden. This way, the daffodils perform double-duty. 'Barrett Browing' is a particularly good cultivar for this purpose because it is an excellent perennializer. It is an early small-cupped daffodil with pure white petals blushed with faint light yellow.  The cup is a brilliant red-orange that can be seen from a long distance. On top of that, 'Barrett Browning' has a lovely fragrance which can be enjoyed in a pot or a vase.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Best of English Gardens 2015

I am pleased to announce that I will be returning to the UK this year to help lead a tour of English gardens May 12-21. I will be giving a North American perspective on how to incorporate ideas from the English gardening to members of the tour; a sort of 'color commentator' to compliment the excellent English tour guide. We will be visiting Great Dixter, Hidcote, Sissinghurst, Stourhead and Wisley among other gardens and attractions. The tour ends with The Chelsea Flower Show in London.

You can see the complete itinerary at The Best of English Gardens, 2015Discover Europe offers a  wide range of tours throughout Europe. For more information, see their website.

 The 2014 Best in Show Garden by Luciano Giubbilei

The Cottage Garden at Sissinghurst, the garden of poet/novelist Vita Sackville-West and her husband, historian Harold Nicolson

The Long Border at Great Dixter, the home and garden of the late plantsman, Christopher Lloyd, now run by his Head Gardener, Fergus Garrett.

An elegant lawn at Monttisfont Abbey

The Temple of Apollo through the trees at Stourhead Garden

A beautiful garden path at Kiftsgate Court Gardens

 One of the many focal points in a garden room at Hidcote Manor

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Peterborough Parks: A Public/Private Partnership Talk

Tuesday I will be giving talk to to the Littleton, MA Garden Club on how the Peterborough Parks Committee creates and maintains the public gardens in Peterborough. I am excited to share my recipe for success, much of which I learned from Lynden B. Miller, who designs public gardens in New York City.

Here is part of the handout I will be giving the participants:

1) Design only what you can maintain at the highest level. Visit the best possible public and private gardens you can for inspiration. Make it gorgeous and keep it that way. Long-term maintenance is the key. Prepare soil properly from the onset.

2) Funding: start slow and show what you’ve done and grow. Keep trying to get grants even if you fail. Leverage success using volunteers to get public funding, public support and grants. Work toward a long-term endowment.

3) Mixed border works well for four-season beauty. Start with what it looks like in winter using hardscape and plants with winter interest (bark, berry, structure). Foliage is more important than flowers. Use the best and biggest plants you can get. Each park has its own mission statement or intention.

4) Set time and days so volunteers can incorporate time into their schedule. Have a specific plan for what needs to be accomplished each week.

5) Vandalism: Repair damage as soon as you see it!

“Make it gorgeous and they will come. Keep it that way and they will help.”
Lynden B. Miller


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