I hadn’t visited Skylands for about ten years, and never in the fall. I went hoping to see the last of the fall foliage and instead found stonework that was interesting in its scope and full of ideas.
Formerly an estate developed in the 1920s, it is now the New Jersey Botanical Garden and its stone American Tudor mansion is better known than the gardens as a popular site for weddings.
The stonework at Skylands is incredible and impressive…even if much of it is in need of repair. There is both formal and rustic stonework and sometimes dressed stone is juxtaposed with natural, dry stacked with mortared.
There were two stone features in particular that I loved and was inspired by. The first, a window box clearly displayed the hand and skill of the mason who made it. I’ve never seen one like this and would love to be able to duplicate it in some way.
The other was some bluestone flat work done to surround a planter. The stone radiates out from the central point of the circle, with angular cuts.
Skylands is a place that mostly stands still. A new crabapple allee that had been planned when I was last there has been planted, but the site still screams that it is underfunded and under appreciated.
I was one of seven (I counted) people there on a sunny afternoon, and one of them was mowing the lawn.
I had some rare time in between landscape design projects and clients last week and as I’ve been meaning to take my new camera lens out for a spin, I stopped by Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown to search out some of the details of the season. The focus of this public park is plants…not necessarily design although it has its designer-y moments. I go here when I need a plant fix. I send my landscape design students here to photograph and learn about plants just as I did years ago when I was learning.
Grasses, asters, Japanese anemones and Monkshood were at their peak and the large swaths of hardwood foliage astound, but there are many other details that can make a landscape’s planting design special in the waning warmth and long low light of autumn. Sometimes they are stalwart summer hanger’s on and sometimes they are plants whose season is now.
The almost spent bloom structure of a Heptacodium miconoidies (Seven Sun Flower) has beautiful open structure and pale pink color.
I’m a sucker for contorted branches of a Japanese maple silhouetted against some foliage ‘stained glass’…
The gold and russet fronds of Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern) in a woodland setting adds some unexpected living color to the ground plane. Mostly the oranges of fall are fallen from above.
The late blooming native Nicotiana sylvestris (Woodland tobacco) is a giant in most gardens but so worth it in terms of drama. One of my personal favorites, and easily raised from seed, it takes forever for this plant to appear, and does smell a bit like an ashtray…remember those?
Pinus bungeana‘s (Lacebark Pine) exfoliating camo bark. Who wouldn’t want this in their garden? I don’t see this tree in commonly in the trade or used enough in gardens. In fact, I’ve only ever seen one once in a residential garden where I kept it from being cut down!
Lastly, as I said in the beginning the Aconitum and Anemones were at their peak. So pretty reaching for the light.
When I was in Chicago in August, speaking at IGC about landscape designers and their potential relationships with garden centers I took a day before and a day after to explore the city and meet up with friends. I’ve been to Chicago regularly over the past five years and have seen and written about its wonderful gardens and street plantings, but this time I went in search of something else. Architecture.
Chicago reinvented itself after the great fire in 1871, and many of architecture’s greatest design minds have lived or worked in the city. Three who formed the basis of the way we think about buildings now – Henry Richardson, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright experimented in Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
I was somewhat surprised to see that Sullivan’s Carson, Pirie, Scott building is now a Target, but given that company’s commitment to design it made sense.
I met up with landscape designer, Helen Weiss and her daughter, for an evening and went on an Art Deco walking tour. I was surprised to be thinking about how the interlocking and sleek geometry of that style could be re-interpreted as garden designs. Not literally–but as contemporary planting schemes or path layouts or even as ways to prune and hedge. I am sure something from this inspiration it will surface as I work through design ideas I’ve been experimenting with. It’s all a part of the process.