June 24, 2012

The Exhibition Spencer Sweet Peas Arrive

Spencer Variety of Sweet Peas picked, and resting on the back porch before we distributed to the 'old ladies" in the neighborhood. If one is over the age of 85, Sweet Peas is like Cat Nip. I'm not sure why I love them so!

Ok, bear with me as I bore you with more sweet pea photos. What was I thinking...exhibition sweet peas in most every color, and no place to exhibit them? I forgot that sweet peas must be picked every day, otherwise they will stop blooming, so now, the porch, bedrooms and most every table in the house, as well as the neighbors' houses are filled with fragrant sweet peas with long stems.

I promise, only one (maybe two)  about this project ( because remember? the sweetpea party next weekend - if they last!) and then I will need to write a big round-up showing the step-by-step images. Why? So that next year, some of you can try growing these beauties. You know you want to.

 Here in Massachusetts, we had our first heat wave of the summer, with three days over 90 deg. F. Normally, this would prove fatal to most sweet peas grown conventionally, as they dislike significant temperature shifts, and those as we have been experiencing since the week before last, fall between a 50 degree spread. Still, the plants have broken out of their funk, the buds and stopped dropping, and suddenly, Joe and I are swimming in some of the most glorious sweet peas, with one foot long stems and a fragrance that can make even a raccoon, swoon.
I'm a little busy with work presentations this week, so I will simply share these images with you.

I kept the freshly picked sweet peas in the kitchen, overnight, and in the next morning, the entire house was scented. Using every spare glass that I could find, I separated varieties by color. If I didn't have to work this weekend on a project, I would have played around a bit creating some designs with various color combos. I might have ever made a sweet pea wreath. Maybe next weekend.
 The last time I grew Sweet Peas, it was 1986, which is amazing once I think about it, since it seemed like it was just few years ago. I was just out of college, and spent that summer home before moving to New York for a job at another ad agency, when I decided to grow an entire garden of exhibition sweet peas. Not only because they are so rarely seen, but because I remember my father and my aunt Harriet talking about how 'Ol Mrs. Usher" who lived on a large dairy farm behind the house where we live now, who apparently grew 'amazing' sweet peas. She must have, for at a family 4th of July party that year, I brought baskets of sweet peas. My fathers brothers ( there were 9 of them), all mentioned the legend of Mrs. Usher. I thought, how times have changed, here are 9 men who as boys, shot ducks and went skiing on home made skis in the 1920's and 1930's., then survived WWII, and now, decades later, they still remember Mrs. Usher and her sweet peas. Maybe because three of them married sisters, all who lived in this neighborhood. Sweet Peas today, remind me of this connection. The Usher children, now grown, own an automobile repair shop up the road, I wonder.....
Sweet Peas come in an amazing range of colors, especially those in shades of purples and blues, my favorite. You may be tempted to buy a mixed packet of seed, but by selecting exhibition varieties which are sold by named selections, one can assemble a more pleasing monochromatic collection of tints like this - a selection of periwinkle, lavender, violet, purple and magenta. This combination is the finest, I think.
After Cutting early in the morning, cut sweet peas are laid out and arranged by color before being plunged into cool, fresh water to harden off.

June 21, 2012

California Wildflowers, Welcome In Summer

CORAL COLORED CLARKIA AMOENA 'AURORA' AND PAPAVER COMMUNTATUM
Hot, steamy heat - exactly what my California natives hate, but at least I know that they have produced deep root systems by now, having been in the ground since March. Papaver commutatum, the pure species form also known as the Ladybird Poppy, blooms along with tender Clarkia amoena. 

June 20, 2012

The Long Walk, Like It's 1910 Again

VIEW OF THE LONG WALK, LOOKING SOUTH. A LARGE TUB OF AGAPANTHUS -THE BLUE LILY OF THE NILE, WHICH IS ABOUT TO BLOOM, HAS BEEN PLACED ON A WIDE STUMP, WHERE A BLUE SPRUCE WAS CUT DOWN LAST YEAR.


Turn of the century gardens in New England were often inspired by a mixture of influences - my grand parents were clearly influenced by their immigrant roots, as we are finding out as we uncover formal walks and borders that have become over grown during the past 100 years. Particularly, this long walk, which is nearly 130 feet long - a standard feature in many gardens in 1910. These long walks were common in suburban gardens, as new immigrants planted Hollyhocks, fruiting shrubs, iris, poppies and herbs along long, strain stone or brick walks. Often seen in walled Italian gardens, or formal box-lined French parterres. the idea of a long walk adds more than structure to a garden, it helps bring a sense of perspective, with a long vista, and opportunities for repetitive textures and themes.

Our garden is not fancy, though it may look like it in some pictures! I assure you it is not, but this long walk does always surprise me, once we weed the gravel and edge it. It's a lot of work, which requires continual hand weeding, trimming and sweeping, but it does reward us on hot, summer evenings with a stroll out back to visit the ducks and pheasants - if one can dart between the mosquito's.

ALONG THE RIGHT SIDE, A PLEACHED HEDGE OF ENGLISH HORNBEAM, FRESHLY GROOMED, HELPS TO ADD SOME TEXTURE. I AM THINKING ABOUT PLANTING BOXWOOD ALONG THE LEFT SIDE, AND GOLDEN LEAVED PLANTS UNDER THE HEDGE THIS YEAR.

A pleached Hornbeam hedge, which I planted fifteen years ago is maturing nicely. Like a tall, deciduous hedge, elevated on poles, it is actually first woven, and carefully clipped, to achieve a formal, neat look. Now we cheat, and just trim it with Japanese hand sheers twice a year ( June, and September), but it often looks best in winter, when the foliage turns coppery brown, and stays on the branches until spring, a habit of the European Hornbeam.

LOOKING NORTH, ONE CAN APPRECIATE THE LENGTH OF THE LONG WALK, AND THE MOON BORDER ( WHITE FLOWERS) WHICH WAS JUST PLANTED THIS YEAR.

Lavatera Being Staked while young.

In the moon border, out white garden, annuals which are rarely seen grown well, such as these Lavatera, are started from seed in peat pots, and carefully slipped into prepared holes in the early spring, as they dislike disturbance of any kind. They may look like nothing now, but in a few weeks, these Lavatera, will take off and reward us with a shrub-like display of white flowers. A relative of the hibiscus, these annuals must be carefully staked while young, so that the main stem will be able to support the many side branches which will develop after the fourth of July. The same treatment is extended to the Mollucela, the Bells of Ireland, as they require similar cultural conditions.

LONG WALK, VIEW LOOKING SOUTH, TOWARDS THE HOUSE. AT THIS POINT, THE ROCK RUNS OUT, AND JUST GRAVEL IS LEFT, AS WE ARE NEAR THE WOODS, AND THE JUNKY PART OF THE YARD. HERE, THE BORDER IS PLANTED WITH MORE EASIER-TO-GROW SPREADING PLANTS, SUCH AS HOSTA AND VARIEGATED PETASITES.

You've been asking for different views of the yard, here is a view looking east from the long walk, toward the greenhouse roof. With temps reaching 100 deg. F today, the vents are full open. Clipped wisteria and magnolia foliage frames the view.

Sweet Pea Update!

Speaking of fragrant sweet peas, this tropical shrub is SO fragrant, that it is stealing the show at the moment. Murraya paniculata is extremely fragrant. I even had to close the bed room windows last night, as it woke me up. The hawk moths are going nuts with this pot placed out on the deck.

June 19, 2012

Can you guess what this plant is?

MUSSAENDA HYBRID 'DOUBLE RED'
It's like Christmas in June, except we here in New England are about to have a three day heat wave with temp's reaching near 100 deg. F ( Oh, the sweet peas!). Yes, suddenly, it's tropical, and for many of us, it's about time, after all, it's nearly summer. This strange plant may not be strange to you if you collect plants and live in southern Florida. What looks like a velvety Holiday poinsettia, is a plant genus often collected in the tropics for its colorful bracts and habit of blooming during the longest days of the year. Meet the genus, Mussaenda. A tender, tropical shrub with colorful bracts that come in pink, white and yes, even a bright, 'double' red. This cultivar, called Mussaenda 'Double Red' could have a better name, but we felt that it was worth a try, even though I have the faintest idea where I can fit it into a color scheme in my garden. It sits in a large tub on the deck, looking awkwardly Christmasy, so maybe I'll drag out the twinkle lights.

Mussaenda is new for me, but here is what I know. Its common name can be Tropical Dogwood, Ashanti Blood, Red Flag Bush or Profit's Tears. Native to tropical West Africa, where it can grow as tall as 30 feet, it makes a terrific tub plant for areas with hot and humid summer weather. In tropical climates, it is often used as a landscape plant as a substitute for Poinsettia, as the genus Mussaenda is more disease resistant and less likely to have insect pests. There are a few names cultivars, ranging from pink, white and single red forms, all are choice and valued as container plants in the north.

Most of us will need to grow this as a house plant, or in a warm conservatory, but as it blooms best during the hot and humid summer, this might be one plant to add to your summer container list, since surely, your neighbor will not have it. It's always nice to have something to stump the plant geeks who may visit your garden!



June 17, 2012

Poppies, Roses and Peas - June is Busting Out All Over

GREY POPPIES? SURE. LOOK FROM SELECTIONS WITH GENTLE COLOR PALETTES, SUCH AS THIS  STRAIN CALLED 'MOTHER OF PEARL', WHERE COLORS SUCH AS GREY, PEARL AND OFF WHITE ARE NOT UNCOMMON, BUT REMEMBER, YOU MUST SOW THE SEED WHERE THEY ARE TO GROW, THESE ARE POPPIES YOU WILL NOT FIND AT A GARDEN CENTER - THEY SULK IN POTS AND CANNOT BE TRANSPLANTED NOR DIVIDED. THIS KEEPS THEM RARE IN MOST GARDENS.

I am not a betting man, but it was a tremendous gamble, my little poppy experiment that I  back in march. After 10 months of record breaking warmth, I hedged my bet with the idea that eventually, we would have a cool period, but I never dreamed that we would have such a cool and perfect June. Surely, it will all change next week, but our past four weeks of cool nights, and breezy, sunny days have given the poppies and sweet peas a boost that I could only have dreamt about. Shirley Poppies, if grown well, bring the gentle charm of poppies to gardens only spring weather cooperates for they demand fresh, cool nights in summer. They are best grown in areas where summers remain cool, such as coastal Canada, the Pacific north west, and the United Kingdom. Elsewhere, one must take their chances, but those who persist will be rewarded. Over the next few weeks, expect more images from the three strains of Shirley Poppies that I have planted this year.


GREY POPPIES ARE MAGIC IN THE GARDEN, THE RAREST COLORS ARE ALWAYS THE MOST DESIRED.

JOE PICKS PEAS , EVEN ON HIS BIRTHDAY. PEAS WAIT FOR NO ONE, ALTHOUGH, SUGAR SNAP PEAS CAN BE ALLOWED TO MATURE A BIT MORE, JUST EXPECT MORE STRINGS, WHICH ONLY  MEANS A LITTLE MORE PREP TIME CLEANING BEFORE COOKING.

SNAP PEAS COVERED IN MORNING DEW, ALL READY TO BE PICKED

OLD WORLD ROSES ARE BLOUSY, FRAGRANT AND SHORT-LIVED BLOOMERS IN THE GARDEN, BUT IN JUNE, WHO CAN LIVE WITHOUT CABBAGE ROSES?

MANY SUMMER BULBS IN CONTAINERS ARE STILL EMERGING, THESE MINIATURE EUCOMIS, OR PINEAPPLE LILY, WILL GROW FAST ONCE THE NIGHT TEMPERATURES RISE TO SEVENTY DEGREES, WHICH WE EXPECT TO START NEXT WEEK.

GARLIC SCAPES WITH DEW. THE TWISTY STEMS ARE A SIGN THAT THE GARLIC HARVEST IS NEAR! WE PICK AND PICKLE THE STEMS IN JARS, THAT IS, THE ONES THAT DON'T MAKE IT INTO OTHER STIR FRY'S

FRAGRANT STOCK, A DOUBLE FORM, SCENTS THE GARDEN FOR AT LEAST FIFTY FOOT RADIUS 

PAPAVER SOMNIFERUM, CONTINUES TO BLOOM IN THE ALPINE BED. I KNOW, FAR FROM AN ALPINE, I COULD NOT PULL IT OUT!

ON THE GRAVEL BED, THIS LARGE TUB OF SINNINGIA TUBIFLORA IS DEW COVERED, BUT THE FUZZY LEAVES WILL DRY OFF QUICKLY ONCE THE SUN HEATS THE GRAVEL. THE HOT GRAVEL HELPS KEEP THE SINNINGIA FOLIAGE FROM SPOTTING FROM EXCESS MOISTURE. AN AFRICAN VIOLET RELATIVE, THIS PLANT WILL PRODUCT TWO-FOOT HIGH STALKS WITH FRAGRANT WHITE TRUMPETS IN MID-JULY.

TURNIP GREENS AND RADISH GREENS REMIND ME OF A LITHUANIAN SOUP THAT MY MOTHER USED TO MAKE IN SPRING. IN FACT, HER MOTHER MADE IT TOO, USING STORAGE POTATOES, RADISH OR TURNIP GREENS, CHICKEN BROTH AND SALT PORK OR PANCETTA. A SIMPLE, SPRING SOUP USING THINNINGS FROM THE GARDEN.


June 14, 2012

Averting A Disaster with Sweet Peas


It was touch and go, just a week ago, as my sweet pea crop began to fail, seemingly overnight, just as the first flowers of the year began to open. I couldn't believe it, it seemed that I was following the rules to the tee, carefully starting good seed in February, carefully pinching and selecting the strongest stems, using root-trainers, carefully preparing and testing soil, bamboo poles, and daily tending with proper fertilizer and ties.....then, they started failing a week and a half ago.

Without any sign or notice, the super-healthy plants with large leaves and long, loaded bud stems began to fail. First with curling leaves, and then with the buds yellowing overnight, and dropping off. I searched for the cause, and discovered that sweet peas, especially those grown for exhibitions on the single-stem cordon method, as mine are, are particularly prone to a host of diseases, most notably 60 virus', bud drop and an increased sensitivity to water, nitrogen and ethylene gas from automobile emissions.  I was about to pull and burn my entire crop, when it all seemed to change again, overnight.


I think I have a physiological disorder known as 'bud drop'. Apparently the bane of sweet pea growers, it is not a virus, and has many causes, most commonly dramatic shifts in day and night temperatures in the beginning of the season, or any number of cultural causes such as differences in water, water temperature such as a cold hose spraying ice cold water on hot plants, gas fumes from cars, over fertilization with nitrogen, and many growers admit that bud drop is simple a mystery. There are 5 common virus' which can also plague sweet peas, and even though my foliage seemed crinkled and curled, I believe that I now don't have a virus just yet, since I can't see the tell tale 'windowing' or color breaks in the foliage, although there seems like there might be some fascination at the top growing point on a few plants, I think I have discovered the cause, and the cure, thanks to Mother Nature.


 Last week our night time temperatures dropped to 30 deg. F, and then jumped to 80 deg. F during the day. I feel that this caused the yellowing of the first set of buds, and the resulting bud drop, as just as fast as the symptoms started, they have ended. New buds appear to be emerging and elongating without yellowing. Yay! My fingers are still triple-crossed, as I am hosting a party in two weeks to celebrate the blooming of these sweet peas, but so far, it seems that I might have skirted this first bout with disease or fungus breakouts, so common with cordon-grown sweet peas. The plants that I am growing more naturally, as bushes, un-pruned and in cages, are not affected, it appears, which I am learning from my books, is also common. Any of you sweet pea experts out there, please share your thoughts based on these photos, but I am again hopeful that I might have some sweet peas in two weeks - the long range weather forecast has switched to be more consistent, but we have been blessed with perfect, cool and moist spring weather this June - a gamble that I took three months ago when I decided to try growing the perfect poppies, sweet peas and stock - all lovers of typical English weather - foggy, cool and damp.

YELLOWING BUDS RESULTING IN BUD DROP ON MY SWEET PEAS

ALL SEEMED TO BE GOING WELL, WITH THE CORDON-GROWN SWEET PEAS UNTIL THE BUD-DROP BREAK OUT BEGAN OVERNIGHT

ALL THE BUDS LITERALLY DROP OFF AT THE TOUCH OF A FINGER, THERE ARE MANY CAUSES OF THIS PLAGUE, MOST CAN BE OVER-COME WITH  SHIFT IN TEMPERATURE OR CULTURAL TECHNIQUES

NEW SWEET PEAS ARE STARTING TO BLOOM WITHOUT THE BID DROP, MAKING ME HOPEFUL, ONCE AGAIN, THAT I MIGHT GET A DECENT CROP FROM THIS CHALLENGING-TO-GROW PLANT IN NEW ENGLAND.

UPDATE ON OTHER PROJECTS- EXHIBITION CHRYSANTHEMUMS HAVE BEEN UPGRADED TO LARGE, FIBER POTS AND RECEIVED THEIR SECOND PINCHING

JAPANESE MORNING GLORIES, ASAGAO, HAVE BEEN REPOTTED INTO FELT POTS. I AM GROWING THESE IN THE TRADITIONAL JAPANESE METHOD, SO THEY WILL BE HEAVILY PINCHED TO REMAIN SMALL.

THE STOCK IS BLOOMING NICELY, AT LEAST THE ONES THAT I DID NOT PINCH. NEXT YEAR, NO PINCHING! THAT WAS A MISTAKE THAT I MADE. THESE ARE SO FRAGRANT, THAT JUST A COUPLE OF STEMS SCENT THE ENTIRE GARDEN


June 13, 2012

New England Idyls - the Garden of Gioia Browne and Jim Marsh



A PAIR OF VINTAGE FRENCH BISTRO CHAIRS INVITE GUESTS TO REST UNDER TOWERING AMERICAN ELMS AT THE HOME OF GIOIA BROWNE AND JIM MARSH IN LITTLE COMPTON, RHODE ISLAND.


It's always a treat to see a mature landscape. You know the type - century old trees ( or even older), with massive trunks and deep, dark cool shade. A nineteenth century barn, ancient stone walls, towering American Elms and elegantly long and breezy drives - such is the garden of our good friend Gioia Browne and Jim Marsh, located in the peaceful and understated New England town called Little Compton, in Rhode Island. This was our second stop on this past weekends' Garden Conservancy Open Garden Days in Little Compton, which featured two amazing gardens, each offered a unique view into some of America's most special and important private gardens and homes.


JESS ADMIRES GIOIA AND JIM'S GRAVEL DRIVE, PERFECTLY RAKED AND EDGED. WE IMAGINED THAT THEY HAVE DOZENS OF GARDENERS, AND NOT JUST ONE!



BOXWOOD PROVIDES STRUCTURE AND AN APPROPRIATELY PERIOD TOUCH ALONG WITH SOME ARCHITECTURAL CARDOONS. WE COULD SPY SEEDLING VERBENA BONARIENSIS EMERGING.

Gioia and Jim's garden is enchanting - the sort rarely seen anywhere today, classically New England with stone walls, shingle potting sheds and formal plantings, it also is a true plant collector's garden with treasures tucked away in every nook. Sure, there are the classic English border plants - towering foxgloves, old world roses, primroses and clipped box hedges, but there are also plant-lover plants: gentians, alpines, rare Japanese woodlanders and interesting trees and shrubs. This is truly a knowledgeable plant enthusiasts garden which happens to be charming and designed to perfection. 

GIOIA (right) DISCUSSES HER COLLECTION WITH A GUEST

 We met Gioia three years ago when she attended a planning meeting for the American Primrose Society at our house. She helped me make a huge baked Alaska that day with me. We never imagined that she had help create such an amazing garden, but once we got to know her, it's no surprise. Gioia is a passionate plant collector, so given her knowledge about plant species, this garden makes sense. Gioia is not what one might expect in Little Compton. She is not the 'garden club' type of gardener - she is a get your knees muddy, start your own primula species from Tibet sort of gal. Sure, she can still work her Lilly Pulitzer as fine as her posh neighbors, but what impressed us was her collection of rare plants. Many planted in drifts. Clearly, she knows what she is doing out in the garden. Gioia and her gardener have created one of the finest American gardens, and surely, they are not done yet.

A VIBURNUM BLOOMS IN A HEDGEROW, IN GIOIA'S AMAZING GARDEN

A RED LOUISIANA IRIS BRIGHTENED A STREAM AND WATER FEATURE

AN ALPINE BED IN FULL, JUNE SPLENDOR

A STUNNING BLUE ANCHUSA AZUREA 'DROPMORE' IN BLOOM IN THE CUTTING GARDEN. ON THE LEFT, A PRACTICAL COMPOST PILE WITH ENGLISH SWEET PEAS ALMOST IN BLOOM.


ANCHUSA AZUREA 'DROPMORE'







June 10, 2012

And the Bobolinks Rejoiced - A visit to Sakonnet Garden

Herbaceous  single white Peonies and clipped box and holly hedges demonstrate great a thoughtfullness ( not restraint) in a part of the world where blue hydrangreas and pink roses are amnipresent, if not iconic. 
I was first introduced to the private garden known as Sakonnet Garden in pages Ken Druse's book The Collector's Garden (Clarkson Potter, 1996). I remembered every photo - the Crytomeria lined walk, the room of pink Rhododendrons, the little red chairs, the boxwood hedges and the wood paved walks. This weekend I finally visited this very secret garden, hidden behind a tall stone wall in posh yet rural Little Compton, Rhode Island. The garden was open for the past two weekends only, as part of the Garden Conservancy Garden Open Days, and I was delighted to be invited to attend.

A PAIR OF SUCCULENT DOMES TOP OFF TWO STONE WALLS AT THE MAIN GATE. THESE ARE BUILT FROM MOSS-LINED WIRE BASKETS TURNED UPSIDE DOWN, MAKING THE ENTIRE OBJECT EFFECTIVELY GEOMETRIC YET  IMPRESSIVELY MYSTERIOUS.

 This year there were two gardens in Rhode Island participating in the Garden Conservancy Open Garden Days, check the Garden Conservancy schedule here, to find out about Open Days near you.

Sakonnet Garden is the creation of John Gwynne and Mikel Folcarelli, two energetic and obsessed plant collectors who have taken their passion far beyond the idea of a mere garden, they've created something special - a living museum. Hidden from the road completely, the only hint is the number of the address on a tree. A short driveway lead to a gravel car park, a garage and a massive stone wall. I started to wonder where the garden was... a dare-I-say quaint 1910 shingle home, typical for this area of Rhode Island was thoughtfully restored and updated with a massively thick granite stone walk, a magnificent stone wall that was taller than I was hid the lawn and meadow behind it. Around the home, a few potted plants arranged tastefully showed the restraint of a designers mind, a clothes line complete with willow basket set out reminded me of beach homes when I was a kid ( this originally was John's parents summer home), and a sweet grassy and fenced terrace remained much the way his mother had gardened there, complete with a few peonies, a chaise and a simple fence.

When I saw this, I looked for my mother, for every evening this was a ritual in our garden. At Sakonnet Garden, nothing was too perfect, rather, it demonstrated countless ways one  could be perfectly imperfect. Life is that way, nature follows the same rule of perfect imperfection too. John and Mikel neither celebrated not hid parts of a garden where they live, instead, everything is there for a reason. A compost pile can be beautiful in the middle of a lawn, if it abuts a vegetable garden, A bucket of dumped refuse from a breakfast from the past sits upon clippings from a lawn, artichoke leaves from a plate, and weeds. It;s not only OK, it's just life. (or at least it should be).





Mikel was kind enought to take some time to give us a personal tour, but so far, I started to wonder about where this amazing garden that I had read about actually was. So far, the entire space was thoughtful. Simple, clean, uncluttered. Mowed lawn, a boxwood hedge, and then meadow. But oh, what a meadow. We saw the wild Iris long before we arrived, as a mile or two before we reached Sakonnet Garden, we stopped to photograph a nearby meadow full of Iris versicolor, at least I believed that it was the common Blueflag Iris, Iris versicolor, later, I learned that the Iris is a rarer species, that of Iris prismatica,  known as the Slender Blueflag or the Cube Iris. A species that is similar to the larger blueflag, but is distinguished by the width of the leaves, which are only a 1/4 inch wide, similar to the grasses it grows with.




 We rounded back to the parking area near the garage, and Mikel then said "so, are you ready to see the garden?" He lead us down a mowed strip in the meadow along side of the property, to a steel gate that was taller than all of us. Beyond this portal, lay a labyrinth of garden rooms - I heard voices in nearby rooms saying things like "Can you beleive this? It's is like a Disneyland for plant lovers". As a designer who worked on some Disney Theme park activations myself, I had to admit, that many of the principles of theme park design have been employed here - for example, "the big weenie - which is what Disney Imagineering insists in added to every project, from a theme park ride to a restaurant - it means, add one thing that is so awesome that everyone will look at it and go "ahhhhh". At Disney, it would be a giant castle, or a huge globe that lights up at night at EPCOT.  A giant sculted tree of life smack in the middle of Disney's Animal Kingdom.  At Skonnet Gardens? I might be a rare blue Meconopsis, or a an exotic temple rising above a pool of huge, floppy Petasites leaves, it might simply be a color theme, a long vista giving one a view through four rooms, a returning path through the same garden, but at a different level.
A gate of Ilex crenata becomes a green portal, a virtual star gate to another land. Beyond? The allee of Cryptomeria japonica.



In different ways, I connected to both John and Mikel, John, a talented artist and designer who had pivotal roles in designing the Bronx Zoo, and Mikel, a Creative Officer at the fashion brand Façionnable based in Nice - we all have crafted a  life where we play and plant, become part of nature, and then change and augment nature daily. We design with nature, allow nature to become art,  or to simply be 'art' - we create scenarios where nature can carry on peacefully, with some stewardship, and we even sometimes aid nature in a world where it often seems that the opposite is happening.

Gardens are so much more than just places where one plants plants. The are environments where all of the senses can be tweaked. Scent and sight are two obvious ones, but there is an emotional aspect to a garden too, or at least in some well crafted gardens. A garden can give you goosebumps, it can make you feel cosy, nervous with anticipation, excited, it can surprise you, especially when you turn a corner or step into a room and go 'Wow, look at that", Like a well hung museum show, a garden can provide restful places for the eye, too. A cool stone corner, with a single stream of water, a long narrow wall between rooms, lined in bow wood that towers over you. Each garden room here has a different theme, each one surprises you, make you smile, then feel serious, gaze in awe or inspire you to site for a white in it' peaceful, quiet space. This is a garden that I would cherish some time alone in, and not with a crown of people. In that way, it is very much like a museum. "I want to sit on a bench in that room with the massive Sol Le Witt and just absorb it".

Birds were our friends, here. -not sparrows as in my home garden, but a warbling Carolina Wren,and the wood oboe tones of a Red-Breasted Grosbeak high in a Pawlownia tree, a distant wood thrush and Oven Bird, even a Crested Fly Catcher. One is surrounded by summer life. It made me melancholy and even a little sad, since these are the things that I miss in the home I grew up in - in my garden, we returned to the "thump thump thump' of techno music in the low riders, as a pit bull barked and English sparrows chirped making the yard that just two years ago would have been rich with the dawn chorus.  Firetrucks screeched by at midnight, and then a few bomb blasts from home made fireworks at 2:00AM. Clearly, it's time to think about leaving my garden and move on to a better land, but until then, I need to visit and dream, - a practice many of us can do, since, yes, there are always ways to improves ones garden, and visiting other gardens can inspire one to make life changes that are often too difficult to make alone.

Wondering how a garden can change your life? Look at these pictures, and let me know what you think. Sometimes, experiences like this can change your life.

A SITTING AREA IN VERMILION, IT APPEARS TO BRILLIANTLY FLOAT ABOVE A SEA OF PETASITES JAPONICA SSP. GIGANTEUM ( AND, A GUNNERA). BY NOW, ONE FORGETS ONE IS IN RHODE ISLAND, LAND OF THE BLUE HYDRANGEA AND WHITE PICKET FENCE.


Living and gardening incorporating simplicity isn't easy, especially for plant collectors, but John and Mikel found a way to do it. I'm sure there are arguments and bouts of eye-rolling between he two of them ( as Joe and I do) about where a plant should be planted, or about a garden space that one may feel needs refreshing, but in the end, it all must be resolved. Do I dare call it 'purposful restraint'? 

Maybe, but as a designer myself who works on large, global projects, few things happen alone, there are teams to execute, and even more who can make reality happen. Often, this is the phase when a project can drift off from a singular vision. One gardener, or rarely two, will eventually need to dominate, to stand their ground. I never had time to ask wither John or Mikel ( nor Ed Bowen!) where the struggle ends, or starts, for a garden this complex is very much like a business - and new product lines are on a continual cycle of evaluation, elimination and germination. There is a a process - a concept, visualization, and then, reality. Such things rarely happen without fire.
CINNABAR STAIRS AND THAI GARLAND- John and Mikel love tropical fusion, here Honeysuckle on a June day in Rhode Island. This garden transports the guest, to a different country in every room. And now, to England.
If this is not on your wish list, it is now - Podophyllum delavyi. There are just some plants that you pass over in catalogs, until you see one in person. Lift a leaf, and these are the flowers.

THE FLOWERS OF PODOPHYLLUM DELAVYI ARE A SURPRISE TO ANYONE WHO SNEAKS A PEEK UNDERNEATH THE MOTTLED UMBRELLA SHAPED LEAF - A SHREDDED RED TASSLE AWAITS.

Some rooms became very flower-show like, yet when staged outdoors, became magical and sureal with the broad open sky, the buzzing of bees, and dragon flies. This garden room, suddenly transformed our journey into a very English one. Skyrocketing foxgloves, and giant clouds of Crambe cordifolia, tower over head, not just because they are tall, but because they are planted on a berm, a trick that used mounded soil to raise the plants to magnificent heights. It creates a canvas that is more vertical, lifting and exposing plants to the eye with a new dimension. A practice I want to steal for our garden, as it is flat too.


MIKEL CALLED THIS RED FOLIAGE GARDEN, A HOMAGE TO THE RHODE ISLAND RED, A WORK IN PROGRESS THAT HAS SOME SHRUBS TRIMMED TO LOOK LIKE THE FAMOUS RHODE ISLAND CHICKEN.

RODGERSIA PINNATA, MY FAVORITE PLANT, GROWN THE WAY IT SHOULD BE, AS A CARPET.

THIS HIMALAYAN BEAUTY WAS SPOTTED NEAR A POOL. THE RARE TIBETAN BLUE POPPY, MECONOPSIS BETONICIFOLIA.


A LOG GATE!

THE YELLOW GARDEN, LEADS TO OTHER ROOMS BEYOND, EACH WITH DIFFERENT COLOR THEME.

And then, of course, there is the plant material. Arisaema of most every species, rare trees, rare shrubs, rare, rare, rare everyrare one looked. A tall forest of rhododendron trunks, a canopy of red beech trees, a garden composed completely with a palette of yellow tinted foliage.

A RARE MEADOW IN NEW ENGLAND, NESTING BOBOLINKS WERE SIGHTED!


We returned from our "theme park" ride back to the meadow. John's other passion is the preservation and stewardship of the few remaining grasslands in this part of coastal Rhode Island. These grasslands are essential breeding habitats for many migratory song birds, most notably the Bobolink, which breeds only in open grassy meadows and grasslands in the north eastern US and Canada. These natural habitats of swaying timothy, Milkweed and blue stem are becoming scarcer each year across North America as farm land becomes inhabited with McMansions and outdoor shopping malls. Ground nesting species such as the Bobolink and Meadow Lark require special attention since they need quiet open spaces to raise their young.Stewardship means more than just "saving the land", it means maintaining it the right way - such as haying later in the season - after August 15th, so that broods are allowed to mature without being disturbed. Early haying in July will destroy nests, along with young and food sources).

John Gwynne and Mikel are dedicated to preserving the grasslands of coastal Rhode Island and New England. To learn more about their project WILDMEADOWS, visit their site here.


Later this week, photos from the other garden we visited.


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