April 23

Gardens of the High Line by Piet Oudolf and Rick Darke

ELEVATING THE NATURE OF MODERN LANDSCAPES

This is such a fantastic book if you like the look of the High Line Gardens. These are gardens in new York created on the old railway line that is elevated above the city and was descending into disrepair since its closure. Some far-sighted person envisaged a garden and together the landscape architects James Corner Field Oprtsyiond, Diller Scofodia + Renfro and gardener Piet Oudolf created a vision and plan that became reality.

The book is a picture book of the gardens on the High Line throughout the seasons and it shows the hard landscaping and the planting working so well together. I think it is possibly my most favourite garden that I haven’t visited of all time (at the moment) because I love the hard edges of the landscaping and the wild planting.

Photo by Richard Darke

There were two things I took from the book for my garden. Firstly, always be able to articulate the vision and principles for the garden. I am well aware of doing this in my work but hadn’t thought about it from a gardening point of view and it is true. The beds in my garden or on the wildlife plot that are the least successful are the ones where I am not sure what I am doing in them. On the wildlife plot the names of the beds are sometimes a shortcut to what I am doing with them – The Grasses Bed – but I have one unnamed bed that I just stick all the leftover plants in and it looks a mess. At home in the garden I am slowly moving to be a bit wilder and this needs articulating about what I mean for each border and bed and the garden as a whole.

Photo by Richard Darke

I love the way the tracks have been relaid and the planting appears through them in parts of the garden. Some of the tracks have also been used as sculptural items and I like that too. Context is everything here – the context being industrial but wild land.

An example of articulating the vision of the garden is of the Chelsea Thicket. Here a sense of enclosure was required with fragrance playing a key part of the experience. The ground is to be covered in a carpet of herbaceous plants that act as a mulch and prevent weeds from becoming too prolific. This has been achieved through the planting of trees that enclose area and then shrubs such as viburnum, winter hazel, fothergilla and witch hazels to name a few that provide the fragrance. Underneath these are planted sedges, hakonchloa, spring vetch and fumewort. This is a classic layered woodland.

The most essential skill to possess, whether designing or conserving layered landscapes, is the ability to observe and articulate the patterns

p227

The second thing I took from the book are plants to try out – I garden on sand and therefore some of the limitations they have on soil depth and dryness make the plants quite suitable for me. Once I have worked out and articulated the vision for my gardens and beds, then I will go back through the book and identify some plants to try. Easy to try plants would be spring vetch (Lathyrus vernus), Frosted Violet coral bells (Heuchara ‘Frosted Violet’) and sedges (Carex bromoides) as an understory.

This is a book I will return to time and time again, to lose myself in the pictures and to try and recreate a small part of it in the soil I tend.

April 21

A Beautiful Obsession by Jimi Blake and Noel Kingsbury

Hunting Brook courtesy of Gardens Illustrated The link takes you to the article and names the plants.

All books that are about individual gardens are promotional material for the garden, chock full of atmospheric photos of the planting and quite often key plants and this book is no different in that respect. What it is also selling is Jimi himself with a chapter on his life which is not out of place because the garden is very personal to him, from the naming of the different parts to the planting philosophy. What this does mean is that the garden is distinctive and different.

The chapters that were of particular interest to me were the ones about his planting philosophy and then how the various gardens differ from each other.

As the book says, Huntigdon is a plantsman’s garden filled with a wide range of new plants, an emphasis on foliage and colour and is also what we might call high maintenance with busy planting and removing times in May and October. Jimi uses a lot of annuals and tender plants and this is undeniably labour intensive if not as the books says Victorian. What it means is constantly changing borders full of colour. The garden does not have shrubby plants which are considered to be a bit blobby and not much fun after flowering, but uses ‘woody’ plants from the Araliaceae family which tend to be single stemmed giving a strong shape but not casting much shade. This is a new range of plants to me.

Another feature of the garden is the way summer is extended with the planting of salvias playing a key role. As Blake says, he has tried 256 species and cultivars and is gradually reducing this number to the ones he thinks work well with perennials. He recommends pruning them to keep them compact and not planting them with manure or fertiliser, just well-drained soil to encourage flowering and he dead heads them. Something I might need to start doing. There are then lists of salvias which do well in the garden and with other plants, the only one of which I grow is Salvia ‘Amistad’. There are also dahlias and here I do have quite a few of these although Blake grows mostly singles and collects and sows the seeds from them. It does mean a range of slightly different colours in the plants but these can be quite effective planted amongst the range of annuals and perennials.

The book then goes on to explore the different gardens in more detail and ends with a plant list. For me, the benefit of this book is the range of different plants that are showcased and that might be suitable for my garden.