This Tuesday’s Terrace is a place to be pensive, a place where good memories are created and linger. From the pots displayed on the steps, all the way into the woods beyond, your eyes and mind are free to wander as far back as you wish them to. – James
Every year it happens, it’s a seasonal, cyclical, and mental shift occurring earlier or later outside of our control. Time flies by, with spring swirling into summer, too entranced by the beauty of the garden to stop and breathe. The early seasons are extroverts, flaunting us with blossoms who boast with color or scent, parading past us day after day. It’s happening already here in Holland, the chill of autumn has seeped through the boundaries of the garden, with each morning met through a shroud of fog and green Parthenocissus foliage already tinged red. It is impossible to ignore the shift between these two seasons, plants begin to slow down, the work load lightens and the atmosphere becomes moody, making the same garden full of a new set of emotions. The introspective seasons have started their approach and have turned DeWiersse into a foreign film, as a voyeur I watch the details change rapidly in front of my eyes, with nothing left to do except accept it. In a few weeks I leave my favorite garden for the second time in my life, already prepping for the last day I have to spend in this paradise. We can’t slow the shifting of time, but finding the beauty in these changes makes it more beautiful. – James
There is no other place that I go to where I feel as motivated as I do when I am at DeWiersse, it recharges my creativity to full capacity. It is a difficult balance but I manage as best as I can, all of the sketching, photography, gardening, and arranging. It a great pleasure to be in such a beautiful environment that I find it hard to sit still, there is too much to do, to see, to enjoy. I drink it all up like a dry sponge and try to capture as much as I can in my sketchbooks. I alternate my materials between pen, pencil, colored pencil, and watercolor but the subject is always the same, the breathtaking beauty of DeWiersse and the surrounding Dutch countryside. I would happily spend the rest of my life filling up books with these scenes if it were up to me. Enjoy the journey of the garden through sketches… – James
They have always been the romantic idyll of summer, evoking visions of blanket picnic lunches in the sun or maybe under the shade of a mature tree, beautifully marked butterflies erratically making there way to a destination, the sun casting a glow on all the flower colors dotted throughout with grasses swaying gently in a warm summer zephyr, causing that soothing rustling sound that makes you feel like time is standing still. Meadows are always a breathtaking sight, whether created by man or in a field taken back by nature’s own hand, we have no say in how things play out in this theater.
Meadows are the free-spirited child of the gardening world and we admire them because we can try to guide and coax them but they do what they want, as they please. We can add ingredients to the meadow but how the recipe turns out is always a surprise. What flowers will end up where? And next to whom? We relinquish control and give in to those seasonal vignettes of chaos, a true pleasurable experience, which in the end is always an admirable result.
Meadows are always at their best in poor soil, with plants reaching maximum potential sans nutrients and fertilizer. It is what is, and I like the mystery in that, nature knows best. Through the season they move through different phases visually and there is one plant that has a part in this equation. This plant is a true workhorse in this environment and is known by the name Hay Rattle, Yellow Rattle, or it’s Latin name Rhinanthus minor. I first saw this plant in the Great Dixter meadows years ago and have been a fan ever since, it is because of this plant that doors open for the possibility of a more diverse mix of plants in the meadow.
This annual, which flowers from May to August, is native to Europe and Western Asia and is commonly found throughout fields, grasslands and roadsides. With its innocent looking yellow blooms and serrated leaves, this plant does is it’s work on the sly, by parasitizing surrounding grasses growing around it in the meadow.
Underneath the soil, the roots of Hay Rattle steal the nutrients from the roots of grasses, slowing down their vigorous growth enough that other plants have the chance to establish themselves and grow without getting pushed out . Grasses can grow at such a quick rate, easily out-competing other plants trying to grow in the meadow, easily taking over, with the end result being a less diverse plant mix. Rhinanthus minor changes that, holding the door open for all the other blooms you might see flowering alongside it, and is by far, the most superior plant in the meadow. How can a plant that does such good not be anything but loved?
Since speaking last, I have traded “¡Olé!” for allées and taken some time away from Spain to visit friends in the Netherlands, in a garden that has had so much influence on me. A few years ago, I spent some time here as a student and found the garden to have a large impact on my way of thinking about, experiencing, and approaching garden design. (This is where I read Sylvia Crowe’s book on garden design, which I was able to experience her ideas while walking around here.) DeWiersse has been in the same family and managed since 1678, so over the course of time, the gardens have been tweaked to a point of exquisite beauty while still remaining very much alive and loved. DeWiersse is in the eastern most part of Holland and is both a garden of 38 acres with a landscape park of 74 acres and has a moated manor house that lies at it’s heart. The garden is made up of many different areas including meadows, wild gardens, topiary, a formal rose garden, a large kitchen garden, allées and a sunken garden.
Typical of a Dutch style, parts of the more formal garden close to the house are enclosed within hedges of clipped Yew and while heading further away from the house, the style becomes more loose and fluid as it turns to wild garden and woodland, eventually blurring the lines between private garden and the existing farmland that lies beyond its boundaries. No detail is overlooked, which is what helps make DeWiersse a treasured experience but I will explain more as time goes on, giving attention to what makes these details so special.
I will leave you now with images, in the order of a stroll through the garden , of what is happening now, a visual teaser of sorts, a horticultural hors d’oeuvre to appease the appetite. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the cutting garden is calling my name….. Wishing you well….. -James
Fagus sylvatica, and all 95 meters of its serpentine tunnel. A smile is always necessary while walking through here, amazed at the incredible horticultural skills displayed, not only inviting you to look, but to engage in the marvel that it is. It is a feast not just for the eyes, but an exercise for all the senses.
Traditions regularly weave their way through our lives, being passed from one generation to another without written instruction, following what those have done for ages before us. Some of these we enjoy, others not so much. One beautiful Dutch tradition takes place on birthdays and is usually orchestrated by your immediate family members. On their birthday, the person is celebrated with their very own flower chair, when it is tradition that the family decorates a chair with seasonal flowers, paper streamers, paper flowers and balloons. It is customary in my friends’ family to use fresh flowers only, taken, of course, from their very own cutting garden. I had a hand in helping to continue this celebration once, first harvesting any blooms we wanted to use from the garden, keeping in mind to choose flowers that have longevity and that would not wilt immediately or stain clothing. To create the chair a base of grapevines, sans leaves, were weaved through the frame of the chair, which was used as the anchor for the rest of the blooms and foliage that were to follow. The more densely packed the chair became, the easier it was to insert more flowers, from annuals to perennials, grasses and foliage, we piled it on, barely leaving a place to sit. Once finished there was no denying the smiles this seat elicited from the birthday girl and the others in this wonderful Dutch celebration. Gelukkige verjaardag!
Maybe it was the recent passing of Arbor day, or Eric’s response to the question,”What plant would you choose to be come back as..”, to which he chose the olive tree, or maybe it from being asked about my favorite photo; I am not sure exactly but it brought trees to the forefront of my mind. There is one quote about trees that is a favorite of mine, a Chinese Proverb that reads, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” It often makes me think about the admiration and respect we have for trees and wonder where does our love of trees come from, what is our fascination with them? Some answers are plain to see with the obvious factors of why we love them is that they are good for the earth and environment, the air, they provide wood which we have used to build our homes and shelters and most of our furnishings too, they provide the pencil we write with to the paper we write on, among many other rational reasons. There is no doubt that we are thankful for these things that trees provide, but there is something deeper, more emotional that they stir up in us. Trees evoke so many deep memories that probably started at a young age, maybe being pushed on a tire swing hanging from a strong limb or running in the woods with friends as children? Apple picking with the family in the autumn, when some leaves mesmerize us while turning their bright, brilliant magical colors?
One of my earliest memories regarding a tree was during my kindergarten graduation. All the students, with help from our parents, collected money to purchase a flowering dogwood (I remember the attached white tag clearly) and gave this tree as a gift to our kindergarten teacher, as it was her last year of teaching. It was all kept a secret until the end of the ceremony, when it was pulled along in a red flyer wagon, by myself and a fellow student, up to our unsuspecting teacher. As we pulled this beautiful little tree, with its peachy-pink blooms and root ball wrapped in burlap, we were met with gasps and smiles from those seated in the auditorium. The whole situation was fascinating and confusing to me – why were we giving her a tree, why a tree? What did it mean? Where would she plant it? We all lived in the Bronx! Would she think of us every time she looked at in in flower or in leaf? What if she didn’t like trees? And where was she going?! There were so many unanswered questions about this ceremonial act that were clouding my young mind.
Growing up in the Bronx, meant spending the weekends upstate at my grandparents house, about a 2 hour drive north to Red Hook in the Hudson Valley. My siblings and I would climb the huge trees next to the house, which were situated just outside the kitchen window, always trying to see who could climb the highest. Pines, I remember them with very large trunks and limbs. When we would be called in for lunches of baloney sandwiches and fresh cucumbers, we carefully descended branch by branch, jumping onto the soft pine needle covered ground when we were within safe proximity. Once inside, we always needed to spend some minutes scrubbing the sticky pine sap off our tiny hands before we were allowed to eat our lunch. I am sure if I saw these trees now, they would not seem as large as they do in my memories of those times. Could these early games have sparked my fascination with trees?
Texture and foliage keep a garden interesting through the season. Flowers are just moments of gratification. – Kevin Doyle
The sight of a single or grove of deciduous trees can invoke both pleasant and melancholy thoughts. The silhouettes of solitary trees in winter are their fingerprints on the horizon, stamping themselves against a bare sky. You might easily recognize what tree it is from a distance, whether in daytime or on a bright moonlit night. In a Pennsylvanian winter, I always imagined the large Platanus trees in the forest were the ‘Kings of the Winter Wood’ with the seasonal light picking up the silvery glints of their beautiful bark. Even in a mixed wood they easily stand out, it is the season for them to shine, glowing among a surrounding dreary sea of muted trunks of gray and brown, a king among men.
Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong. – Churchill
The sense of coolness we feel in the warm summer months, as we sit beneath the shade of a single specimen or enter a dark grove, tingles the skin and puts the mind at ease, giving us a break from the heat of the blazing sun. A nap can easily be brought on by listening to the lullaby of the branches swaying slightly in a breeze, leaves rustling to and fro, causing our minds to wander into a sleepy landscape, protected underneath a large and looming canopy.
The plethora of trees in the countryside is always pleasurable due to their sheer amount surrounding us, so it might be possible to take single trees for granted there, but not the case for a city dweller. They might not know what the tree is, where it came from, or its significance to the world, but that single green tree in a sea of concrete puts a smile on the face of many neighborhood folk rushing about their daily activities. Is it the the short-lived colorful blooms they love, the soothing green color of a fully leafed out tree, or is it the thickness of the eye level trunk which quietly proclaims its sense of history in such a rapid paced environment? Perhaps it is why when we see one go down in city streets, we feel a tinge of panic, a moment of sadness, a shortness of breath because someone we saw each day is now gone, another piece of the present is now forgotten history. Some blossoming trees are sometimes further enhanced by surrounding garish city colors, letting the tree be an individual among other city folk, standing its own quirky ground just as it own citizens strive for individuality.
Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. – Confucius
If there was only one tree I could plant, I would most definitely choose something from the genus Malus because of its continual hard work most of them provide through the seasons. Spring brings the beauty of delicate blossoms that attract and feed insects, lush foliage with developing fruits while providing good shade in summer, gorgeous and colorful delicious apples dangling from each branch in autumn and some with fall color, and finally the wonderfully twisted silhouettes to look at during the winter, especially pleasing in an orchard.
The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration. – Claude Monet
There is no denying that trees are the elephants of our plant kingdom; they are larger than us, old, gentle, wise, experienced, and have stories to tell. They are the plants we know have seen a lot, probably more in life than you and I have, and probably ever will. In keeping with the favored Chinese Proverb, remember to plant those trees for future generations, not just for the pleasure of ours today. – James
Trivial details glossed over by some can be the plague of others; a friend once told me this is the disease of an aesthete. Sometimes though, the best lessons we learn are often stumbled into by making a mistake, or in better cases, a happy accident.
During the two years I studied at Longwood Gardens, each student was required to keep a garden; an area designed and created of our own ideas. It was an exciting time, a blank canvas of a 15’x50’ garden plot to call my own but suddenly there were too many directions and ideas to choose from. The design process seemed overwhelming and my mind felt like a glass of water, but without the structure of the glass to hold it all together, ideas spilling in every direction and with no shape or structure. Given instructions by our teachers that in order to keep the design process cheap, since we would only have our gardens for two years, they told us to ‘beg, borrow, and steal’ to get the materials needed for our plots. We were granted access to an area of free but limited hardscape materials that were left behind by the preceding graduating class, which myself and the other students ravaged and put to good use.
After nabbing some large bluestone pavers, but not enough, I had trouble deciding what to use to complete the rest of my paths. Trying to keep free of spending money on materials that would just need to come out in two years, I was forced to get creative and resourceful. The best ideas sometimes emerge from the smallest of budgets, or lack thereof and this lack of budget taught me a valuable lesson, resulting in employing other senses in ways I had not anticipated in the garden.
Remembering a grove of Pinus sylvestris not far from my plot, I collected and spread the fallen needles throughout my garden paths as mulch between the bluestone pavers. Pleasing to the eye in color and texture, and free, it was different from what I expected and as time wore on, I enjoyed the calm feelings I got while walking through my garden.
I learned from my choice of material that what is under foot can have an effect on how it shapes our garden experience. The feeling of calm as I walked over the pine needles on my paths, as if walking through a quiet pine wood, connected me in a more intimate way to my garden, more so than if I had chosen stone or even left the paths as bare earth. This detail helped me approach future designs and layout of gardens in a new way.
I took for granted that the senses we use in the garden are related to sight, scent and sound but what we cannot touch with our hands, we can still feel beneath the soles of our feet. Flowers are a sight to behold, and texture and form for that matter, but are these the only reliable tricks we can employ on the visitors experience? Plant based gardens are nice but seem one-dimensional and need to be more complex to stimulate me; I love plants, but not obsessed with them as the only ingredient in the garden recipe. Experiencing gardens has always had an emotional impact on me. I don’t always want to think when I am in a garden but I want to feel , and what lies underneath my feet helps me do just that. A wise teacher once told me, ‘when visiting a garden, don’t just think about what is that you like about it, but think about what you would do better.’
Budgets aside, one of the dominating factors in choosing path materials is largely based on the visual pleasure it provides but chosen materials do have the right places in which to use them, task accordingly and site appropriate of course. Treat the garden in layers and these small details in garden design can help hijack our senses and lead us to have a different garden experience, not always obvious and often subtle. Not everyone understands gardening to a degree as much as we would like, and some say its the slowest form of theater, but it’s up to us to set the stage and make it a more cerebral experience, attacking the senses on the sly and leaving the emotions tantalized by the interactions people can have in the garden.
This lesson I realized is not just in relation to paths but I have since applied to all areas of design, as someone obsessed with aesthetics, the details we employ in our gardens and spaces can’t just be visually attractive but must serve a dual purpose if possible, digging deeper to find it. I find pleasure in thinking of gardens and spaces in this way; the layout of a place, the arrangement of the space within it; it is always an exercise for the mind. Thinking I was crazy to obsess about such things, I found solace, after Longwood, in a recommended book written by Sylvia Crowe, she wrote the book on garden design, still standing the test of time. Once realizing other people knew this language too I was thankful that such valuable lesson crossed my path early, due to my student garden, a lack of budget, and some pine needles. See, the beauty is in the details, there are never problems, only solutions and always a silver lining if you know how to read it. -James