Field Trip: Montrose Gardens

Close to twenty years ago, as a serious home gardener, I discovered mail order plants–from a paper catalog with a paper order form that you had to send in by mail.   Some of the first plants delivered to my front door were from Montrose Nursery.  Although no longer a nursery, the good news is that you can still visit the gardens which were part of the Garden Writer’s Association symposium tours last week.  This garden, for me, was the highlight.

The famous Montrose blues and yellows
The famous Montrose blues and yellows

Now a Garden Conservancy preservation project, Montrose did not disappoint.  Varied plantings in different gardens areas and rooms surround and enhance a property with charming outbuildings and woodland views.  Its sense of place blew me away.  There is no mistaking that this is a southern garden.

Garden path to outbuilding
Garden path to outbuilding
Planted sugar cane pots and cauldrons
Planted sugar cane pots and cauldrons

Blowsy, mature and abundant, these gardens tell the story of  more than 30 years of a singular gardening vision.  According to the garden’s pamphlet, Nancy and Craufurd Goodwin purchased the property in 1977 and expanded what a 19th century North Carolina governor,  William Alexander Graham and his wife Susan, had started.  Here are some images of the gardens–they don’t begin to do this treasure justice.

Gravel path with millstone and urn
Gravel path with millstone and urn
Dew kissed succulents in the urn from above
Dew kissed succulents in the urn from above
Path in a series of garden rooms
Path in a series of themed garden rooms
Two unplanted outbuildings beautiful in their simplicity
Two unplanted outbuildings beautiful in their simplicity

Great landscape design incorporates rhythm and repetition to convey ideas and create mood.  Rich and saturated hues of burgundy with pops of yellow and orange were found throughout Montrose.  To me, this discovery wasn’t immediately apparent but I was drawn to it every time I saw it.  Each of the photos below are from different areas of the gardens–outbuildings, the garden rooms, and next to the house.

An outbuild with an obscured, once functional door
An outbuilding with an obscured, once functional door
A pocket garden behind an outbuilding
A pocket garden behind an outbuilding
A garden adjacent the house
A garden adjacent the house
An urn in the garden rooms
An urn in the garden rooms

There are so many things to look at and absorb in the gardens that I could have spent several hours there instead of the 45 minutes the tour allowed.   I will go back some day.  I suspect there will be many blog posts from others who were on the GWA tour about the plants and wonderment found here, so I will limit mine to these.  Go if you ever have the opportunity.

A Gathering of Garden Writers

I’m at my first Garden Writer’s Association symposium in Raleigh, NC.  I decided to attend just to see what it was like and well, it’s different than I expected. Also, the Raleigh location and the planned garden visits were places I wanted to see…more about that in a minute.

First and foremost these writers and garden communicators are welcoming and I’ve met some people who I previously only knew through their books or on-line via blogs, zines and social media.  Second, about 95% of them are crazed with plant lust.

Here’s some images of places and plants from the first couple of days.  Like my trip to Portland this past July, it’s going to take a while to filter everything so it works for me.

It's the south...it's a bottle tree
It's the south...it's a bottle tree

This bottle tree and the lovely ecclesiastical birdhouse in the next image are from Helen Yoest’s wildlife garden.  On a suburban lot, she has created a haven for birds, butterflies, and other small creatures including a box turtle.

Church birdhouse
Church birdhouse

Another highlight of the first few days was a visit to Duke Gardens.  A teaching garden that was once part of the Duke estate, there was exquisite stonework and interesting plant combinations in a terrace originally designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman.

Bold combo at the Duke terrace gardens
Bold combo at the Duke terrace garden

Exotica at Duke Gardens
Exotica at Duke Gardens

Lyrical curve on curve at Duke Gardens
Lyrical curve on curve at Duke Gardens

Trifecta at the Twitter Track

I spent a wonderful day outside on Saturday because of what happens inside my Twitterverse.  Now don’t stop reading because you think Twitter is a total clock gobbler that leads nowhere.   Here’s proof why it’s not.

Bridge with Eupatorium purpureum at Innisfree
Bridge with Eupatorium purpureum at Innisfree

Andrew Keys  aka @oakleafgreen and Michelle Gervais  aka @michelle_at_FG organized the first Northeast Garden TweetUp (#negardentweetup) at Innisfree.  Months ago they announced and promoted it via  Twitter and Facebook.  Thanks to them, I had a full and wonderful day all related to Twitter.  Below is what happened…the photos are surprisingly without people even though it was a people oriented day.

Duncan Brine  aka @gardenlarge, who with his wife Julia,  has a wonderful and totally unique garden in Pawling, NY.  He graciously invited me to visit on my way to the TweetUp. I knew in advance I would experience something special since Duncan’s tweets are often poetic and always thoughtful.  I also knew his reputation as a plantsman–something that I’m not.   I had fully intended to take lots of pictures since his approach to the design of  his six acre space is so different from mine.  The rambling conversation during our walk through his garden was so engaging and his knowledge of plants so extensive that I completely forgot about my camera.  Beautiful photos of this garden can be seen can be seen on Duncan’s website.

It takes a special focus to design a garden as that interlaces the natural with the design intent so seamlessly.  Artful placement, pruning and an exuberant willingness to experiment shows up around every bend in the garden’s winding gravel paths.  There was a funny botanical Latin moment when he pointed out a shrub form Chinonanthus virginiana using the hard ‘ch’ and I had no idea what he was talking about.  I had never seen a shrub form as large as this–I use the tree form frequently and I felt like a ninny.  A few moments later I had an in your face experience with a native Cotinus coggygia–its spent blooms unrecognizable to me in their closeup–another ninny moment.

After a quick stop to pick up some local BBQ, we ventured off to Innisfree to meet an unknown amount of people we had really never met before.  There they were in the parking lot, all recognizable from their avatars, in addtion to the previously mentioned Tweeters, there in person was @cityslipper, @aboutgardening, @B_McManus, @ScottHokuson, @Rob_at_GBA, and @katiehoke–we were the last to arrive.  Innisfree has a large pond and Duncan, Julia, their son and I went in the opposite direction of the group after feasting on BBQ.

The pond at Innisfree
The pond at Innisfree

We eventually met up with the group later and joined in with questions and conversation–a group photo was taken to document the event.  @cityslipper offered up some delicious sun dried tomatoes from his garden. These are people I have short blasts of communication with on a regular basis.   Since there were parts of the garden I wanted to explore,  I left the group–knowing I had one more Twitter stop to make that was 50 miles south on my way home.

Undulating landforms at Innisfree
Undulating landforms at Innisfree

My last stop in my Twitter Trifecta was to meet Kari Lonning (@karibaskets) who had invited me to a small group exhibit where she was going to be showing her baskets.  I had visited her website and was familiar with her work.  What surprised me was how amazing they were in reality and how welcoming Kari was as a person.  Kari interprets what she finds in gardens woven as incredible sculptural baskets.  One was inspired by a tomato patch, another by a sunken garden, still more by the colors in a passion flower.  Having come from a fine art craft background, I have an intense appreciation for the craft intrinsic in Kari’s objects.

Kari Lonning's Basket Exhibit
Kari Lonning's Basket Exhibit

I would not have had any of these experiences if it wasn’t for the time I spend in my Twitterverse.

Bloom Day | 9.15.09

Today was a big day in my garden–busy, busy bees on the sedums and Caryopteris.  I love early fall when the garden fades and don’t have many fall bloomers because of this–it’s my garden after all–not one for clients.  I didn’t take photos until the end of the day.  Here’s the best three.

Cimicifuga sp
Cimicifuga sp.

I bought this at an arboretum plant sale over 15 years ago.  It is very slow growing and only gets about 2′ tall when in bloom.  It was labeled Cimicifuga simplex…not.  I don’t know what the specific variety is…if you do I’d love to know.

A designer grouping
A designer grouping

The fading blooms of Hydrangea arborecens ‘Annabelle’, Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’ and almost done Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ make a great combo.

The last of the summer phlox
The last of the summer phlox

Backlit and fading–this phlox has been blooming for more than six weeks.  It was here in the garden when I moved in and I’ve left it untouched.

Technosplat!

Yes, it’s a new word that accurately describes my computer issues for the last week.  Like a bug on a windshield SPLAT! went my operating system–doesn’t really matter which brand it is.  What matters it what it taught me about myself and how I work.

splat

As much of a distraction as I allow my lovely laptop to be sometimes, it’s also a multiuse tool that has become a dominant player in my creative output.   It is a repository for ideas, drawings, photographs, information, communication of all sorts–working in tandem with my busy brain and the sketchbooks I carry with me.    So much information, finished and in progress is stored in this small space that it has become a mobile electronic studio of sorts.  Like so many other creatives I know,  I tend to be freewheeling in my approach to my process which leaves me open to all types of possibilities which is the point to begin with.  The problem was I was also freewheeling in my approach to protecting that information which also allowed the technosplat possibility.

I’ve lost all types of work  before through carelessness, technological breakdowns and in a flood. I had an inkling of what might happen a few weeks ago and bought a portable hard drive and had started copying files on to it.  Yeah I know that should be a best practice…I’ve already admitted to being freewheeling in my approach.  Between the saved files and the information on my Blackberry, I have almost everything back–after hours and  hours of work.  Will I remember to back up everything all the time from now on?  Probably not, but I will more often than I had before because my work is important to me and this time the splat was a real warning.

Happy New Year Now!

Many years of  conditioning has made me view today–the day after Labor Day–as the official start of my new year.  For 13+ years, clad in new clothes with a shiny new book bag and unscuffed shoes off I went with a clean social and academic slate to begin again.  Those years have become habit throughout my adult life so today is my New Year’s Day!

Red Lanterns for Chinese New Year
Red Lanterns for Chinese New Year

To me, January 1st seems arbitrary and NewYear’s eve an artificial excuse for inebriated excess.  They’re  too close to other holidays, with a long winter to follow.  What’s to celebrate?  Many different cultures have different calendars that all have their own New Year’s Day (it seems no one really agrees) and their own ways of celebrating the passage of another large unit of time, so I figure it’s okay to start my year in September.

In early September, my motivation to clean things up, make amends for whatever and get more organized is strong and deep.  It’s somewhat paradoxical that my psychological new year begins as my seasonal business starts to feel the looming cold weather that will it slow down.

So…Happy New Year everyone–I’m going out to buy a new pair of shoes.

MeMe Redux

One of the wonderful things about the big on-line party is that eventually you run into someone you knew way back when.  A while ago, my Facebook inbox delivered a message from one of my rag tag high school crowd who has proven–on-line anyway–to have a lot of the same sensibilities as I have now.   When I posted my first MeMe award on my Facebook fan page, he shared this and I laughed myself silly.  Thanks, Dean.

So after I thank Chloe West, Laura Livengood SchaubLynn Felici-Gallant , Steve Snedeker and Ryan of Ryan’s Garden for five additional MeMe awards and direct you to my original acceptance speech, I’ll be quiet for the weekend.  P.S. Since this is still within the Meme realm, all links link back to me..me..me in some way.

Field Trip: The High Line

Everyone has been extolling the virtues of New York City’s High Line since the day in opened earlier this summer.  Once again I waited for the hubbub to subside and even picked a grey and drizzly afternoon and evening for my first visit.

The idea of transforming an abandoned railway into a public promenade  is not a new one. The High Line is the second of its kind.  Leading the trend in 1996,  the Promenade Plantee was built in Paris.  A 4.5 km long elevated section of railway was converted into a park with shops, studios and a bike path built beneath it.  In 2004, it was used as a location for a long scene in one of my favorite films, ‘Before Sunset’ . Other American cities with forgotten elevated railroad sections, such as Chicago’s Bloomingdale Line (to be called the Bloomingdale Trail), have plans to revitalize them into public greenways as well.

So French!  The Promenade Plantee in Paris
So French! The Promenade Plantee in Paris

I’ve been interested in the High Line for years and had a rare opportunity to see it ‘before’.  In 2003, I also went to see the results of  ‘Designing the High Line‘ which was on display appropriately at Grand Central StationFriends of the High Line, sponsored a conceptual competition to search for ideas for the 1.5 miles of elevated track along 10th Avenue between Gansevoort Street to the south and 30th Street to the north.  The idea of the competition was to engage the public in a visual dialog of possibility.  The results that I saw (720 of them) ranged from a simple crayon drawing of flowers on grey paper to ideas encompassing everything from roller coasters to mixed residential/commercial/public use to leaving it to rot away to nothingness.

Oudolf's Plantings looking south from 20th Street
Piet Oudolf's plantings looking south from 20th Street

So with all of that in my mind, as well as knowing that Piet Oudolf (one of my design heros) had designed the plantings, I walked the first section of the High Line which is now open to the public–between Gansevoort and 20th Streets.  In the afternoon, I walked its length from 20th Street south.  That evening I walked back from Gansevoort Street north.  The High Line’s  design team has envisioned a promenade with areas for resting, viewing and activity.  It is narrow and expansive, industrial and natural, solitary and communal.  Parts of the open section aren’t totally finished, but even with the dismal weather, there were people strolling, sitting, having a cup of coffee, and experiencing New York’s newest park at a slower pace than the streets below it–so in that way it’s a huge success.

Promenade
Promenade and Gathering

The plantings, more than anything evoke the railway’s abandoned history.  What I found unsettling about my walk both ways, is that there were no surprises.  It was what I expected.

Plantings and original tracks
Expanse and enclosure - industrial and natural

The details of the High Line are what make it special–benches rise up out of aggregate planks or roll on rusted rails, rusted steel (coreten?) edging is bent at 90 degrees rather than being welded, concrete planting bed edges flow both vertically and horizontally, and the lighting conceals and beckons.  It is beautifully designed.

Rolling benches
Rolling benches
Gravel and aggregate at planting edge
Gravel and aggregate at planting edge
Looking north at Frank Gehry's IAC building
Looking north at Frank Gehry's IAC building--vines not on structure yet
A similar view at night
A similar view at night
A bench and the blue tunnel
A bench and the blue tunnel

I think it’s worth visiting the High Line over an extended period of time, through the seasons to watch it mature and grow.  It’s already proved to be a destination worth exploring–even without the surprise element.

Photo credit:  Promenade Plantee via Quirky Travel all others, the author.