5-10-5: Gina Price of Pettifers Garden

I first met Gina after I saw her garden on the front cover of the 2007 Good Gardens Guide and then reached out to schedule a visit in person. On weekends when I wasn’t occupied with my postgraduate research, I would often drive out to visit historic houses, gardens, and nurseries. Nonetheless, a date and time are agreed upon and I tentatively knocked on the door upon which I had embarrassingly mistaken her husband James for a friend. The Prices ended up having a good laugh about the episode, and I ended up staying for much of the day, cementing my friendship with Gina. We’ve kept in touch over the years as the garden has evolved beautifully.


When you first started gardening, you mentioned how your influential friends were merciless in their critiques of your early garden. I can’t imagine that you didn’t feel slighted at that time although the memory of those times appear funny now. What were some of the memorable lines?

Betsy Muir, Dianey Binny’s 80 year old sister was ruthlessly critical about a small curved bed opposite the kitchen door:  ‘Gina, that is a damn dull bed.  Just a lot of acquilegias, and not even special ones.’ I had not realised how much they seeded, and I was near to tears, but she was right. Everything takes so long gardening, and I felt exhausted. When Betsy saw my hostas eaten by snails, she remarked: ‘is that hailstone damage?’ That did make me laugh. And that was the end of my growing hostas as the snails would crawl out of my low stone walls near the house to decimate them. Betsy told me the greatest enemy in the garden was wind, and I opened it all up to embrace the landscape. However the plants I planted, for example grasses, and herbaceous perennials did not really mind wind.

Arabella Lennox Boyd told me how ugly my steps were, and what was I going to do about them.  They had just been laid, and were not a feature of beauty due to inexperience on my behalf. I then covered them with Ivy, which has just been taken off now at least 23 years later. They now look better, and we have placed on the bottom flat bits stone balls that was my Christmas present from James!  Polly [my gardener] thinks they look Dutch.  The colour of the stone has weathered beautifully. These remarks were not all as harsh criticisms as they sounded, as both Arabella and Betsy followed their visits up with very encouraging letters, which I have kept and treasured.

Alliums, like Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, are an essential part of the garden, although they do sometimes need editing as the bulbs have become too successful in multiplying.

Gardens, like their owners, evolve to reflect changing or mature tastes in plants or styles. Comparatively speaking, what would you have liked to say to your inexperienced self through a time machine?

I would like to say that it was not a waste of time growing all the different plants that I grew in the beginning. I learnt how they all behaved in the ground, which ones were thugs, and which liked the conditions of my garden or not. It took years to develop a taste of my own, and a style of my own, and then to stick to it and not be swayed. I learned to look for interest in the leaf and not just the flower. I like plants that look good for a long time, e.g. six months, but these plants are difficult to find. I buy maybe five, and learnt not to have it look too bitty. I try to have it not look too studied – for example, when we are digging out the bluebells of the beds, we leave some in the right hand side which is more woodland-like.

Rather than take the customary approach of dividing the garden into rooms to prevent the countryside view from dominating, you took the opposite, not easy tactic of allowing the garden embrace the view. How did you keep the garden balanced with the wider panorama?

I always knew that I did not want rooms in my garden, though some people tried to pressure me to divide it up, as that was the fashion at the time.  We have gone on and on opening it up particularly by taking out the big rose bushes of Rosa californica ‘Plena’ which were at the end of the lawn stopping the eye. Now we have two yew domes, which is simpler and picks up the picture of the yew in the parterre down below. To keep the garden balanced, not only have the chimneys in the parterre grown a lot and matured (beautifully clipped by Polly), but also we have enlarged the Autumn border and swept it on round to the right to incorporate the landscape. We have taken out the Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ on the right hand side, and the hedge of Rosa glauca, and planted two separate yew hedges which are going to be tapering with the lie of the land, for it all runs gently downhill.


Most modernist gardens depend heavily on hardscaping and herbaceous perennials with grasses, whereas your garden is more accommodating of woody plants. What value do you see in having a diversity of woody plants?

I don’t like a lot of hardscaping in a garden. The advantage of woody plants is that the whole thing is going to look more natural. We are a north facing garden, so the plants are going to enjoy dappled shade, and near the house we have stepping stones taking you through the beds. It is only in the last five years that I have discovered the beauty of ferns. However, it is very difficult finding plants that will do well under the shadow of my two large yew trees on the right hand side.

Agapanthus ‘Quink Drops’, a plant bought from Marchants Hardy Plants, with Hemerocallis ‘Margery Fish’.

British gardeners are spoilt for plant choices, which can be overwhelming for novices. How do you filter what will work successfully with your garden?

I go to two top class nurseries, which sell plants of my taste. Two of my favorite nurseries are Marchants Hardy Plants owned by Graham Gough and Lucy Goffin, and Avondale Nursery near Coventry. Graham and Lucy and I always have lunch together, when we never draw breath about plants!  Polly once went to Marchants, and Graham asked her if she needed any help, to which she said no, as she had seen them all in our garden (she did say quite that to Graham)!

An allee of Malus transitoria in the Paddock leads out to a pale blue wash of camassias.

Why is the transcendent or emotional feeling elusive even in the gardens of UK?

Maybe the owner is not emotional, or too many gardens done by designers.

It takes a courageous spirit to apply for a tree preservation order to be rescinded and then remove the tree once the application is approved. Does the sentimentality towards trees prevent gardens from being better?

I don’t understand the sentimentality towards trees if it is going to spoil the overall picture, or stop things from growing by sucking up the moisture from the ground. To me it is totally obvious if a tree needs to come out.

Cyclamen and hellebores are essential plants that lift winter blues for Gina.

Winters in the British Isles can be gray, damp, and miserable. What in the garden lifts your spirits during those leaden days?

The winter aconites, snowdrops, Sarcococca, Cornus mas, and hellebores, which flower for about 3 months. Particularly the snowdrops and the hellebores.

How often do you and your gardener Polly discuss the garden’s evolution?


The Klimt Border at its midsummer peak.

You often allude to artists or their works when describing specific areas of the garden such as the Gustav Klimt border or the Bottecelli meadow. Does this artistic allusion help evoke the atmosphere you and Polly hope to achieve?

Yes it does , and it is not dissimilar to our description.

The inclination to garden or create a garden seems more persuasive in UK than it has been in Corfu, Greece where challenges like hard soil and dry summers appear insurmountable.

Here in the British Isles we have the perfect gardening climate, which is maybe why we talk about the weather all the time!   We have had a mild winter, a wet spring, some heat, and now cold again.     The plants are growing as you look at them.   Corfu is very difficult. It has cold wet winters, with a rainfall the same as London. Spring is beautiful with the soft green of the olive trees, and many wild flowers everywhere. But then follows 3 to 4 months of very hot weather, with poor watering facilities, and poor quality water that is salty. Again in the autumn everything freshens up and looks beautiful again. Before we bought the property, the garden was just an olive grove, without even a single cypress.


What are some of the plants you could not be without in the garden?

I would not be without the yew structure in the garden, and the Phillyreas, particularly Phillyrea latifolia that I grow.  I love the Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’, and Cornus controversa. The layout of the parterre has turned out much better than I ever thought it would.  My new favourite is my golden Cornus mas.

Again and again you have emphasized the effect of clipping your shrubs well so their forms become architectural after the borders have been tidied. What does it take to clip skillfully and beautifully without overdoing it?

Polly does all the clipping, and she does it all beautifully and by eye.  In the parterre the shapes tend to be on the large side, such as Daphne tangutica. It is huge but we are frightened of cutting into too hard as we do not want to lose it.    Our bushes of Sarcococca are pretty massive, but it all leads to more drama in the winter.


Some people dismiss dahlias and tulips as too much effort – especially lifting and staking for the first, and topping up for the latter. What is it about these two that you and Polly find invaluable for the garden?

Dahlias and tulips are certainly not too much effort. The garden looks beautiful at this moment and it is the tulips making rivers of colour in the borders. Then later on the dahlias in the parterre flower until the end of October, and they are also done to a colour scheme, flowering endlessly, being deadheaded, with flowers for the house.

People gardening in tropical and even Mediterranean climates use scented plants to greater effect than those in temperate climates. What is it about scent you find enthralling in a garden?

Scent in a garden is one of its many joys. James [my husband] has no sense of smell at all which is a shame.

You often get a strong smell particularly in the evening.  My favourites are Monarda, and Dictamnus when you brush your hands up its stems.


Book Review: Sowing Beauty: Designing Flowering Meadows from Seed by James Hitchmough


by Eric Hsu

Together with his colleague Nigel Dunnett whose work at the Barbican Center in London is his most visible work, James Hitchmough have put Sheffield University on the map for their pioneering work in plant communities and their horticultural application in public spaces. While Henk Gerristen, Piet Oudolf, and their peers have respectively publicized the ecological-based tenets of planting for aesthetic effect and lower input than traditional plantings, James Hitchmough, despite being a well-respected researcher and a valued consultant to garden designers like Tom Stuart Smith, has largely been under the radar. Sowing Beauty: Designing Flowering Meadows from Seed (Timber Press 2017) may finally shift the spotlight onto his work. The book is a distillation of more than 30 years of research at Sheffield’s Department of Landscape Architecture. In his introduction, Hitchmough makes it clear that the book is “about utilizing an understanding of how naturally occurring plant communities function ecologically, and then transferring this understanding to help design, establish, and manage visually dramatic herbaceous vegetation in gardens, urban parks, and other urban greenspaces that is long persistent.” In no way are the vegetation he envisages for these plantings are always exact facsimiles of the wild ones, as sometimes he liberally borrows taxa from congruent habitats because seasonal interest must be sustained longer than natural plant communities permit.

Hitchmough is aware of the native plant debate, recognizing that the inclusion of exotic taxa in his planting may be an affront to those who see the disparity between his lament of the biologically diminished landscape and his appreciation of wild landscapes overseas. For a country whose flora was left less diverse after the Ice Age, United Kingdom would be poorer without its garden flora, much of it introduced during the 19th and 20th centuries. Where would Cornish gardens be without their tree ferns, rhododendrons, and camellias, and how would the herbaceous borders on those palatial estates look with only native plants? Imagine Capability ‘Lancelot’ Brown creating landscape parks without the range of trees. Hitchmough points out that large countries like United States or China benefit from having a large native flora, yet the definition of ‘native’ becomes ambiguous if someone would use species with disparate distributions (East versus West Coast). There is a gulf between the political and ecological definition of what is native, and environmental stressors in urban landscapes may be unsuitable for native species where exotic species may be more resilient. Pollinators do not discriminate between native and exotic taxa as long as nectar and food sources are satisfied. Any concern about invasive species is negligible because these uncooperative species are incompatible with the complex vegetation Hitchmough seeks to create. Conscientious of his work within the political and social-cultural context, he will adapt if native species reflect more accurately of the site than simply having exotics. Whereas Hitchmough’s contemporaries depend heavily on plugs and containerized plants for their work, sowing seeds of the desired species is the crux of Hitchmough’s plantings. The immediate benefit is economical scale-wise since large meadows would have required generous financial expenditure. And there is a magic of seeing the ground once bare become awash with vegetation.

“Looking to Nature for Inspiration and Design Wisdom” addresses the ecological parameters one must consider for successful plant communities in gardens. These parameters include climate, soil types, degree of competition with other plants, and herbivore pressures. Any experienced gardener knows too well the heartbreaking travails of failing to grow plants that fit the climate. While it seems prescriptive to match climatic conditions to the plants that are engineered to thrive, it does save one from meaningless struggles, curtailing any unrealistic expectations. Operating on a sliding scale that can accommodate plants with different levels of climatic fitness may be a preferable approach than the dogmatic of sticking merely to ‘extremely fit’ plants. Unsurprisingly less productive soils generally produce species-rich meadows while rich fertile soils permit rapidly growing species to dominate at the expense of diversity. The morphological architecture of plants can indicate the type of environments they can withstand – large leaves can signal high moisture needs and shade. Hitchmough points out that plant communities possess canopy layering, and one can intuit the general appearance and character from each layer.


Traditional horticulture perspectives doled out in general gardening books can unfairly alter our understanding of garden plants – for instance, well-drained soil, moderate temperatures, and sun are cultivation perquisites for Kniphofia, but when evaluated ecologically, a gradient of different conditions emerges for the various species. The horticultural advice overlooks the possibility of Kniphofia being in drainage swales because it assumes that the plants will be used in planting strictly for visual impact, not ecological sympatry. Hitchmough stresses this distinction because ecological, not necessarily aesthetic, traits of plants are the main priority.

Hitchmough’s valid points come from serious studies during his visits to various plant communities in Eurasia, Western North America, Asia, and South Africa. These communities are described and analyzed for their relevancy to his designs. A major challenge from incorporating some of the plants is slugs, which flourish in the maritime mild climate of United Kingdom. There is an inverse relationship between slugs and altitude – the higher the altitude, the less the slug population. High altitude species are sometimes difficult to incorporate because of the slug pressure. Nonetheless Hitchmough does draw up examples of species with high design potential from the plant communities. Gardeners may already grow some of them; for example, Achillea filipendulina, Alcea rugosa (hollyhock), and Eremurus species are suggested species found on productive soils of the Eurasian steppe. How does one take inspiration by studying plant communities worldwide and translate it for designed versions?

Hitchmough lays out two approaches in ‘Designing Naturalistic Herbaceous Plant Communities’: the biogeographic method and the non-biogeographic, pick and mix route. The former results in a some facsimile of the wild community where the sense of identity is emphasized and the planting more likely sustainable long-term. In contrast, the latter exercises more creative freedom due to the lack of biogeographic constraints. It does require more complex understanding of the plants and their interspecific interactions. Hitchmough even proffers the species level rather than the community approach, although the conditions at the proposed planting site must be approximated first. The well-known plantswoman Beth Chatto has taken this species level methodology in which species sharing similar cultural requirements are grown together. Regardless of which approach one applies to their design, macroclimatic and microclimatic factors must be weighed. Latitude, altitude, and continentality define macroclimatic ones while degree of shade, aspect, soil moisture stress, and soil productivity and pH characterize microclimatic ones. Hitchmough has helpfully organized the environmental and management limitations for various natural meadow-like plant communities and species in a table.

Flowering is categorized interestingly in three ways, dramatic, intermediate and low key, driven by the ratio of foliage to flowers at peak bloom, the size of each flower, and the impact of flower color. Asclepias tuberosa would be dramatic because it elicits the ‘wow’ reaction from people otherwise indifferent to plants. Sanguisorba is considered low-key for its flowers are small and not vividly colorful. It may be easy to be dismissive of these systematic categorization, but a wide gulf exists between the public perception and the trained eye. If designed plant communities need to have the impact in public spaces, sometimes our aesthetic values need realistic reassessment for a dispassionate perspective. It is a telling reminder before design objectives can be formulated.

“Seed Mix Design, Implementation, and Initial Establishment” looks at the intricacies of seed mixes. For those outside the profession, using seed mixes seems a failproof technique of achieving the colorful beautiful displays. However, these mixes are usually made of annual species whose high germination rates and little or no seed dormancy enhances successful results. In contrast, mixes of perennial species are sometimes unreliable because lower germination rates and consequent lower density of seedlings are inherent. Seed quality and storage is the main culprit when one selects species for seed mixes – obscure or rare species tend to have the lowest germinability, leading to intermittent demand and longer storage time. Because assessing seed quality takes considerable expenditure, one must brace for paying higher costs upfront. However, the tradeoff is better viability and less variability, which is less costly than having to repeat orders and contend with erratic germination.

Hitchmough cautions readers not to confuse percentage germination with percentage field emergence. High germination can be offset by mortality in field emergence, the survival rate of seedlings visible to naked eye. What can break or make is soil moisture – seedlings, irrespective from dry or moist habitats, benefit with no or minimal moisture stress. All these factors must be weighed before numbers are made for the seed mixes. The mathematician in the horticulturist may delight at the opportunity to calculate the weight of seed for species for a 288 M2 plot. Hitchmough has provided helpful formulas for breaking down the results. Sometimes to bypass the unpredictable facet of direct seed sowing, one can grow plugs or semi-finished plants. Then the question jumps to the available planting spaces per square metre, but actually ends up the same as sowing. What follows is too unchanged. Site preparation, soil cultivation, and sowing mulches will influence the crucial period of seedling survival and establishment. Even the timing of the sowing has an effect as Hitchmough weighs in species with seasonal preferences. Primroses are best sown spring, but Aconitum prefer early and mid autumn to break deep dormancy. The chapter is rounded by an invaluable compendium of emergence data for different taxa.

The first season of sowing still needs diligent husbandry before anything tangible can be witnessed. “Establishment and Management” advises on this first season and subsequent years. Weeding is paramount to any meadow-like gardens since weeds are energetic opportunists. Hitchmough is adamant about weed control, having once hand-weeded an 800-m2 sowing of the prairie garden at the Sheffield Botanical Gardens in its first season. He discourages fertilizing, a self-defeating tactic unless soil compaction and nutrient deficiency necessitates a nitrogen-only fertilizer. Editing becomes a priority once the plants mature and spread. It is a challenge that involves reviewing and conceptualizing the changes because a certain threshold for density of plants is visually acceptable. This threshold comes down to the specific nature of each herbaceous plant community because climate exerts an inexorable effect on window of growth. Hitchmough lays out the community type (i.e. forb dominated and grass dominated for temperate, forb dominated and geophyte dominated for Mediterranean) because the system is no longer a garden where all species from different communities are simultaneously accommodated.

The last chapter contains several case studies in United Kingdom (one exception being in China). Each project is prefaced by a summary of the plant communities, seed source, client and conditions, project area, and timescale. Hitchmough’s scientific methodology is conveyed in the project descriptions where chronological photographs illustrated his points. It is enlightening to read about the successes and failures of each project because most garden designers do not convey the arduous process, focusing instead on the ‘glamorous’ or ‘soft-sell’ results. Having trained and skilled staff to oversee and maintain these complex plantings is another factor Hitchmough brings up – such plantings are not the simple ‘mow and sow’ variety. However, with the slow erosion of skilled horticulturists, the resiliency of meadow-like plantings may be more advantageous than the traditional schemes, like annual bedding. Hitchmough concedes that no amount of empirical data can accurately predict how successful each plant plays in their ‘designed’ communities as plants being living organisms are forever shifting in their longevity and reproductivity. Instead, what the data can achieve is to minimize the losses and increase the rate of establishment.

Sowing Beauty is Hitchmough’s visceral reaction to the environmental degradation of the mining town he grew up in northern UK. It is possible that the extremes we are frequently experiencing from climate change may mean the gradual decline of conventional gardening ideals. In no way should we wait for an ecological catastrophe larger than Chernobyl nuclear disaster or Exxon Valdez oil spill for our mindsets to change. One may discount the meadow-inspired plantings overwrought imitations of the Real McCoy, but for people whose natural connections are becoming fractured in an urbanized world, they represent a vital connection to nature. Thoreau once said: “We need the tonic of wildness”, and Hitchmough’s work brings not only that ‘tonic of wildness’, but an empathic respect for our planet.

Book Review: Landscape of Dreams by Isabel and Julian Bannerman

by Eric Hsu

All images are the courtesy and copyright of Isabel and Julian Bannerman.  

Garden designers are like fashion designers in that they memorialize their work through books. Their books are either modest affairs or expensive productions. The former can become deserving classics for their information dispensed with wit and poetry. The latter can lapse into the clichéd interior design format – large two-page photographic spreads, minimal or no text, and glossary to matt paper. A brief introduction may preface the photography. They have their sole purpose of mindless dreaming and fantasies of what money or time can achieve. Isabel and Julian Bannerman’s Landscape of Dreams (Pimpernel Press 2016) toes these two categories of being informative and visually slick.


In a NY Times T Magazine profile of their Cornish garden, Tim Richardson describes the husband and wife team as to-go ’90s landscape designers for high profile clients that included the Prince of Wales (at Highgrove), Lord Rothschild (Waddesdon Manor), John Paul Getty Jr. (Wormsley) and the Marquess of Cholmondeley (Houghton Hall). Their projects veer heavily towards grandiose ones rather than the townhouse and urban gardens other designers take on.  Their gardens have the bold armature of wooden or stone structures embellished with anthers, finials, and carvings that are dramatic peers to their plantings. Grasses are seldom used as they are in contemporary gardens, but roses, aquilegias, tulips and topiary, all archetypal elements of classic country gardens, are liberally deployed. As prescriptive as this look may seem, the Bannermans have developed a knack for blurring the lines, muffling out the formality with self sowers, perennials that flop decadently over the hedges, and curvaceous topiary forms. They admitted this feat a slippery one: “Trying to make it look as if gardening is not happening particularly is a very tricky deception, full of contradiction since it is actually tuned up and put on steroids.”

Cultivated wilderness as seen in these garden scenes from Tremarton, the Bannermans' second personal garden in Cornwall.
Cultivated wilderness as seen in these garden scenes from Tremarton, the Bannermans’ second personal garden in Cornwall. Image credit: Julian and Isabel Bannerman

A foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales opens the book with an enthusiastic acknowledgment of the Bannermans’ interdisciplinary talents in architecture, landscape, and interior design. This royal endorsement hardly adds to the book apart from the seal of approval to readers unsure about the book’s contents. What follows is an autobiographical chapter in which the Bannermans recount their upbringing, early influences, and philosophy. Their reminiscences are revealed with surprising candor especially about people whose lives happened to collide with them. Reading passage after passage unwinding about these quirky individuals is like a communion with the fantastical characters who populate Alice in Wonderland. DV or David Vicary is described as [a] magical scarecrow of a man, beautifully turned out in his uniform of dark brown alpaca long waistcoat – a sort of subfusc outfit after Doctor Johnson – had a mop of excellent hair definitive nose, and wry vivacious eyes.’ Coincidentally the Bannermans allude to  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for its ‘illusory, hallucinatory quality’ they strive to instill in their work.

Detailed sketches for Wormsley, one of the Bannermans' commissions.
Detailed sketches for Wormsley, one of the Bannermans’ commissions. Image credit: Isabel and Julian Bannerman


The Bannermans are not shrinking violets when it comes to theatricality in the garden. They have marvelous fun poring over historical texts, paintings, and references to pierce together imaginative gardens that would have delighted garden goers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is precisely what they have achieved in half of the former walled kitchen garden at Arundel Castle, Sussex. From the Somerset House garden plan the Bannermans tailored the two-terraced garden – the upper terrace being a trio of courts interlocked by a oak pergola, and the lower terrace a miniature castle, Oberon’s Palace. Two graveled courts with a fountain and four catalpa trees each flank the central court with its canal of water. Oak urn fountains topped with gilded bronze agaves squirt water into this canal. A  large open lawn planted up with alliums transition between the upper and lower terrace. Oberon’s Palace, which takes after the Little Castle at Bolsover, is miraculously mounted on a plinth of Sussex ragstone rocks. The interior palace walls are encrusted with shells and corks, and the room centerpiece is The Dancing Crown. The Bannermans left no detail undone – dolphin, dog, and lion figurines adorn the fountains in the catalpa courts while deer anthers adorn the Park Temple. Sea monkeys guard the arch entranceway of Oberon’s Palace. One cannot help smile at the playful atmosphere of  all the features, even if the embellishment may come across over the top for some.

Daniel Mytens’ portrait of Alathea Talbot painted in 1618 – the Bannermans enlarged the background detail of the garden with its hornbeam pergola, fountain and the doorway on which the Collector Earl’s Garden and Oberon’s Palace’s interior were modelled. Image Credit: Wikipedia
A gilded crown is propelled into the air by the jet of water from a fountain at Arundel Castle. This water trick was inspired by the one the Bannermans had seen at Hellbrunn, Palace of the Archbishop of Salzburg. Image Credit: Julian and Isabel Bannerman

The yellow Chinese bridge at Woolbeding. Image credit: Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

If Arundel Castle is the court jester in the Bannerman design portfolio, then Woolbeding is the royal advisor who parlays a sensible and sympathetic strategy for problems. In tackling Woolbeding, the Bannermans realized: “Lightness of touch is an intangible quality, something we all always seek to achieve and can never be sure of finding.” The late Simon Sainsbury and Stewart Grimshaw already established the formal and productive gardens since purchasing the property in 1970s. For a long time, they struggled with unifying the ‘Long Walk’ to the woodland garden, a large copse of trees, and a placid body of water. A painted Gothic pavilion was positioned listlessly on a grassy knoll without any incentive to visit it. To announce the change from open pasture to arboretum with its structural elements, the Bannermans constructed a Gothic ruin archway entrance. A visitor then would take this entrance as the cue to anticipate the next episode. Because the owners did not wish to move the pavilion, it became the reference point under which a 12′ cliff fashioned out of Sussex sandstone was created. Water would cascade from this cliff, breaking up the still waters and giving impetus to the pavilion views across the lake. A Chinese bridge painted yellow to echo yellow flags and skunk cabbages hovered enchantingly close to the water surface and provide views towards the pavilion. The Bannermans continued the ‘journey’ to a thatched hermitage and the cave of the Rother god, conceived to be the ‘father’ of the river. They installed a tufa monolith, which oozed water from the Rother through clever engineering, in the circular glade where Simon and Stewart had positioned statues of four seasons. This monolith,  “a strange and powerful beast, slumbering, closed-winged but latent”, introduces mystery and a note of danger without which a garden can be atmospheric. It is a light theatrical touch that brings cohesion to the woodland garden, lake, and the pavilion.


A view of the house and the garden at Hanham Court, the Bannermans' residence for 18 years.
A view of the house and the garden at Hanham Court, the Bannermans’ residence for 18 years. Image Credit: Isabel and Julian Bannerman

Hanham Court and Trematon Castle, the last two gardens in the book, are personal ones which the Bannermans patiently and diligently wrestled out of their derelict, overgrown status quo. Had not for the help of the antipodeans (one Kiwi who looked after the children and cooking, and seven Aussies who helped with the construction), the garden at Hanham Court would not have materialized given the sorry state of the property at the beginning. The inception of the garden at Hanham Court prompts a comedic recollection of a conservation officer who, initially horrified at the swimming pool within the remnant medieval ruins, was less than enthused about being duped by the architectural chicanery the Bannermans constructed. It was not simply enough to undertake the house and garden restoration for the impoverished soil needed earth backfills and compost additions before anything was to be planted. The ancient tangle of wisteria was forcibly pulled down to wire the house and retrained to maximize their flowering productivity, and roses like Rosa bankisae ‘Lutea’, ‘Felicite Perpetue’ and ‘Rambling Rector’ joined in the climbing chorus. Nonetheless each project led to another until Hanham Court became civilized with the requisite romanticism. It’s a place that is breathtaking in scale when you visit as I did several years ago on an open garden day. Like Alice who crawls into the rabbit hole or mirror only to end up in an alternate world, you first enter through the wicket gate that is a brief dark interlude before the colors, scents, and all that is the Bannerman magic overwhelm you.

Native wildflower scenes at Tremarton. Photo credit: Isabel and Julian Bannerman

Despite its Cornish location, Trematon proved no picnic either. Archaeological restrictions (no duplicitous ruins and no gullible enforcers) meant no wanton digging. Years of neglect had allowed winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) to spread aggressively and smother out the native wildflowers. Sloping terrain doubled the time it took to complete projects. The Bannermans describe their first year as grey and disconsolate from the rain that fell incessantly. ‘Grey skies, grey granite, grey shaley soil, bitter and wet it was, and the boiler was bust, when we landed with a lot of furniture in a heap from Bristol.’ Just as they had done with their previous derelict projects, they valiantly persisted as they replanted their losses, wrenched out boulders, and excavated new planting holes. Bramble, ground elder, and heliotrope were either sprayed or pulled out from the banks. Judging from the photographs, much of their efforts appeared to pay off. The removal of the invasive and aggressive weeds allowed some of the native wildflowers to return, and made what was once impenetrable promising canvas to ‘paint’. Given how the castle walls already provided the essential backdrop, the Bannermans describe a dizzyingly range of plants, especially those scented, added over the last five years. Their emphasis on scent is purposeful for ‘Cornwall is good for scent, being warm and wet and, when the sun does appear, aromatic plants exude their turpentine tang.’

Bannermans often turn to climbing roses in their work – Rosa ‘Albéric Barbier’, ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’, and ‘Rambling Rector’ clamber over a ruined wall at Euridge Manor Farm. Photo credit: Isabel and Julian Bannerman.

One of the admirable aspects about the Bannermans is their fluency with different plants, a skill that is becoming more uncommon among garden designers and landscape architects. They act like discriminating magpies who retain their proven prizes, experiment a bit, and fold in new possibilities to an existing scheme. Philadelphus (mock orange), old roses, pinks, lilies, sweet peas and lupines are always introduced to gardens with tour de force herbaceous borders.  It is easy to pooh pooh these plants in these gardens, but the Bannermans cherish them for their ‘lived in’ effect they inject in a youthful garden. They are familiar and sensual, evocative of the dreamy past.

If a criticism is to be volleyed at the book, the photography occasionally fails to match the exacting high standards of the garden. Either the authors or the editors have taken the unusual step of not commissioning a garden photographer to illustrate the text, instead opting for the authors’ photography. The downside of such photography is their uneven quality, which can be a letdown for those accustomed to crisp and sharp images in other garden books. Some of the photographs would have been culled to prevent repetition  – one or two close-ups of the plantings would simply suffice. On the upside, the ‘homemade’ feel of the photography gives the text a personal touch as if we were peering through a creative scrapbook or compendium of the authors’ work.

Landscape of Dreams is a book which deserves periodical poring for its sophisticated fluency in landscape and garden design. It demonstrates that truly talented designers do not produce products of hubris, but of respect and humility to the sites they are commissioned to work on. The Bannermans are sensible to realize that each site has its limitations that require their plans to be specific and individualistic.

Justin’s Plant Picks

by Justin Galicic and Eric Hsu

Photography by Justin Galicic

Justin depends more on foliage rather than flowers, although he still appreciates fragrant shrubs and bold annuals that fulfill the bold and brilliant look he aims in his Normandy Park garden. Some of these plants are adaptable and can be grown successfully on the East Coast of North America as well as maritime western Europe.


Dryopteris sieboldii – Tropical-looking evergreen fern that can handle a bit of dry shade. This Asian Dryopteris from China, Japan, and Taiwan can retains its foliage down to 5 degrees F according to Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery.

agave-ovatifoliaAgave ovatifolia (Whale’s Tongue Agave) – Stands up to Seattle’s wet winters and still looks beautiful 356 days a year. According to Greg Star in Agaves (Timber Press 2012), this agave is a high elevation species found in two populations, one between 3000 and 4000 ft (900-1200 m) and the other between 7000 and 8000 ft (2130-2440 M). Its cold hardiness has enable its cultivation in Dallas, Texas, and Raleigh, North Carolina taking down to 5 degrees F without damage (Star 2012). Gardeners less daring can treat it as a decorative container plant.


Magnolia grandiflora ‘D.D Blanchard’ – Stunning copper-colored indumentum on huge glossy leaves. This native magnolia is equally hardy in the coastal Mid-Atlantic Region and New England as much as it is in the Pacific Northwest, and its evergreen foliage have become popular in holiday wreaths and bouquets during winter.


Eucomis ‘Rhode Island Red’ – Looks like ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ but gets twice the size!  This hybrid between Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ and Eucomis pole-evansii from East Coast maestro Ed Bowen of Opus Nursery, Little Compton, Rhode Island, is certainly deserving for its large size, sturdy infloresences (most stalks tend to collapse in themselves), and dark foliage.


Butia capitata – Hardy in Seattle only with some occasional protection.  Still, this blue pinnate-leaved palm is a fast grower and eventually reaches tree status. The jelly palm owes its light frost tolerance to its geographic range in northern Argentina, southern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.


Shibataea kumasaca – Averts the two worst attributes of a hardy bamboo: mites don’t bother it and it doesn’t run aggressively.  It keeps all the great attributes like gorgeous foliage year-round and is easy to grow.


Daphne bholua – Its intoxicating fragrance scents the dark and dreary winter air starting in January in Seattle, well before Daphne odora. Some gardeners have reported trouble getting it to establish, although the effort is worthwhile.


Ricinus communis ‘Carmencita’ – Everything on this plant is red.  It’s an annual but easy to sow.  It can be thought of like an awesome, poisonous sunflower.


Schefflera delavayi – Huge, glossy foliage grows quickly into a small tree.  Amazingly it’s one of the hardiest scheffleras.

Sinopanax formosanus

Sinopanax formosanus – Evergreen, palmate leaves with beautiful copper indumentum for a Taiwanese shrub. It is probably tender for much of continental North America, but likewise can be an arresting container subject.

A Student Garden in Three Steppes

Martha Keen is currently a 1st year student in Longwood Gardens’ Professional Gardener Program; one of her program’s requirements to design and plant a plot adjacent to their student housing. In the following, she shares her philosophy about her garden, which has a spectral, if not ethereal feel in its muted hues (namely blues, grays, and washed out mauve).

The area where Martha and her classmates created their individualistic gardens is a broad expanse free of structures and trees that can appear initially uninspiring, but becomes dramatically appealing through light and fog at different times. Already in early May are the plots eerily tonal from a foggy spring morning.
The area where Martha and her classmates created their individualistic gardens is a broad expanse free of structures and trees that can appear initially uninspiring, but becomes dramatically appealing through light and fog at different times. Already in early May are the plots eerily tonal from a foggy spring morning.

Confines free up creativity, I’ve learned. My classmates and I were each assigned a piece of earth, 15 feet across and 50 feet long, in the middle of a field. I pondered how to make a space from such a narrow slice, absent any backdrop or existing groundwork, devoid of even anything to erase. The single marked character of the site was its slight slope, and the more I tread my plot the more I seemed to notice it.

Youthful gardens promise new beginnings that old gardens can obscure without thorough examination. Martha reveals the gradual transformation of her barren plot into the extant garden, which started in May.
Youthful gardens promise new beginnings that old gardens can obscure without thorough examination. Martha reveals the gradual transformation of her barren plot into the extant garden, which started in May.

From this slope I carved three scalloped terraces, each to hold its own group of plantings selected to evoke, but not replicate a short grass prairie on the top tier, a dune in the center, and tall meadow at the lowest end. The hoop path and margins were mulched with blonde pea gravel, and the plants were sited in wide bands to echo the elliptical center bed. I mulched with salt hay, whose soft color and texture left no dark voids among plants.

Given ideal conditions and no competition, plants can rapidly grow as if they are racing to take advantage over each other; here in July, Martha's plantings are beginning to fill out.
Given ideal conditions and no competition, plants can rapidly grow as if they are racing to take advantage over each other; here in July, Martha’s plantings are beginning to fill out.

As a gardener, but as a living creature, I would never begrudge a flower. But this a garden was a study in textures and repetition first. Among the color palette, I deferred to glaucous and muted foliage wherever possible; among the flowers, few occur that are not dusty too: cream and mauve, a smattering of burgundy. Looking up towards my garden this fall, from the southern side facing north, I could finally see what I wondered about all summer long: a series of steps from Panicum, to Leymus, to cardoon, to Schizachyrium, an a series of undulations filling the spaces between the plantings but hidden from view unless one is inside.

Steely blue gray is the thematic color of Martha's garden (left to right): Verbascum phlomoides; Pycnanthemum muticum, Cynara cardunculus, and Leymus arenarius with Zinnia elegans 'Queen Red Lime'; Schizachyrium scoparium 'Standing Ovation', Leymus arenarius, and Cynara cardunculus
Steely blue gray is the thematic color of Martha’s garden (left to right): Verbascum phlomoides; Pycnanthemum muticum, Cynara cardunculus, and Leymus arenarius with Zinnia elegans ‘Queen Red Lime’; Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Standing Ovation’, Leymus arenarius, and Cynara cardunculus
In a garden that deploys strong textural contrasts in foliage, like the jagged edges of Cynara cardunculus and curvaceous folds of Crambe maritima (sea kale), flowers seem superfluous, and where they do exist, they become sculptural selves after death. Both Monarda punctata (upper left hand pic) and Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' (lower left hand pic) have dual roles in life and death.
In a garden that deploys strong textural contrasts in foliage, like the jagged edges of Cynara cardunculus and curvaceous folds of Crambe maritima (sea kale), flowers seem superfluous, and where they do exist, they become sculptural selves after death. Both Monarda punctata (upper left hand pic) and Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ (lower left hand pic) have dual roles in life and death.
In October, the bleached hues of the grasses mark a momentary seasonal shift in light while Cynara cardunuculus and Leymus arenarius remain steadfastly defiant in their icy demeanors. Martha's garden was unwavering strong throughout the season, and because it utilizes more perennials and grasses than annuals, its winter interest will likely be strong.
In October, the bleached hues of the grasses mark a momentary seasonal shift in light while Cynara cardunuculus and Leymus arenarius remain steadfastly defiant in their icy demeanors. Martha’s garden was unwavering strong throughout the season, and because it utilizes more perennials and grasses than annuals, its winter interest will likely be strong.

A garden is alchemy, something where once nothing was; a garden is willful too, requiring tremendous effort and input that we would flatter ourselves to call creation. Rather, this one revealed itself to a fortunate accident. I selected plants, and many of them expressed themselves so jubilantly in their places that to greet them everyday made this gardener feel a bit more steadfastly herself as well.

5-10-5: Austin Eischeid, Garden Designer

Through the gardening network, Austin and I were introduced online where we bonded over plants and garden design. When he visited the Delaware Valley region for gardens and nurseries, we had a fun time evaluating plantings at Chanticleer, and comparing notes over plants at the North Creek Nurseries trial beds. Austin is now pursuing his degree  iin landscape architecture at University of Greenwich in London, United Kingdom, and the program should round out his strong experiences here in North America and overseas.

Austin laying out plants at one of Piet Oudolf's private commissions in US.
Austin laying out plants at one of Piet Oudolf’s private commissions in US.

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Austin Eischeid, a garden designer currently based in London to learn, get inspiration and meet professionals with the same passion for plants.

Grasses and herbaceous perennials are thematic teammates in Austin's Iowan garden. Austin has been a studious advocate of the looser planting styles t hat are defining gardens in this ecologically-minded milieu.
Grasses and herbaceous perennials are thematic teammates in Austin’s Iowan garden. Austin has been a studious advocate of the looser planting styles t hat are defining gardens in this ecologically-minded milieu.

The arts or horticulture?

I don’t think one could exist without the other.

It seems that your interest in gardening developed early as you seem advanced on the basis of your knowledge and experiences. What is your professional and educational background?

I was first brought into this fascinating world of horticulture when my parents let my sister and I experiment with a vegetable garden at the age of 4. It was so fascinating to see these flowers develop into the vegetables we eat everyday. My mother has a lot to do with my passion of plants. She’s the one who taught me confidence, not being afraid to fail and that the sky is the limit.

After vegetables I turned to roses and perennials. I started a rose garden then found out how high maintenance they can be, then converted it over to a sedum garden, talk about a transition. After this I started in my early teens adding different perennials such as: daisies, blood grass, cat mint and tickseed coreopsis to the mix. It progressively grew every year after that. There isn’t a better education on plants then growing them yourself and seeing their life cycle, habit, and seasonal beauty.

I knew from freshman year in high school that I wanted to get my BS at Iowa State University in Horticulture. I graduated in 2011 from ISU in Horticulture with an emphasis in Landscape Design, Installation and Management. I started my professional experience in residential perennial garden maintenance.

Lately I’ve been traveling Europe for inspiration and educating myself on the perennial movement. My first year (12’) I bought a one way ticket to London and traveled from nursery to garden center to botanical garden, looking for direction. Which let me to these past three years I’ve had three month internships at: Pomosus Landscaping in Dresden, Germany, Hermannshof in Weinheim, Germany and Orchard Dene in Henley-on-Thames, England.

Austin's personal garden in Iowa reveals the multi-layered planting that holds seasonal interest from summer until autumn.
Austin’s personal garden in Iowa reveals the multi-layered planting that holds seasonal interest from summer until autumn.

At what point did you decide that garden design was your future direction after being a floral designer and horticulturist?

I’ve known since early high school that I wanted to be a garden designer. My hometown in Iowa of 10,000 and surrounding area are lacking curb appeal. I wanted to bring horticulture into our culture and show people they can have a space to relax, reflect and enjoy at their own home. I feel people have been misguided/ disappointed after trying the thug perennials offered at big box stores and feel they are the ones doing something wrong. People need access and education on hardy/strong perennials that are for their specific region, water, light, and soil requirements.

Alliums, Calamintha nepeta, sedums, and Andropogon gerardii 'Red October' in the warm glow of the autumnal light on an Iowan morning
Alliums, Calamintha nepeta, sedums, and Andropogon gerardii ‘Red October’ in the warm glow of the autumnal light on an Iowan morning

Russell Page once wrote: “in the town as in the country, a wise garden designer will study his site in silence and consider carefully his clients, their taste, their wishes, their way of life, their likes and dislikes, and absorb all of these factors at least as important as the ground that lies in front of him.” Garden design is similar to psychology where you discern your client’s personal taste and align it with your vision. How do you navigate that tightrope between compromise and confidence in your style?

I embrace my client’s differences and try to make their design special to them. If they have an issue with, say the color purple, which is very important in my design. It’s a matter of educating your client why you use it and how it will affect the design. Sometimes you have to remind your client why they hired you, a professional to do their design.

Sometimes designed gardens can be strangely impersonal especially if the owners are more interested in them as displays of wealth and status. Imagine if a Russian oligarch commissioned you to design his country estate outside of London but is more of an absentee owner who visits the garden twice a year, would you consider the job for financial gain and be willing to accept last minute changes?

It would depend on if the client and I had good chemistry. I like my clients to have curiosity and willingness to learn about their garden. If your client doesn’t care then the garden will never evolve. I wouldn’t do it for financial gain, but if I knew the space would be properly maintained and would benefit from my design style, why not.

During your initial site visit, what do you evaluate first? Soil? Hydrology? Or light?

All three are essential, but I would say soil is most important. If you don’t evaluate the soil you’re working with then your doomed from the beginning. Sometimes we forget that half of the plant is growing underground.

Designing a garden is one endeavor but to find someone or team competent enough to maintain the garden over time is another one. What kind of involvement do you anticipate after the design has been fulfilled and at what point will the garden evolve without your input?

I’m very much apart of my clients garden’s long term. I educate my clients and set them up with all the necessary tools they need to keep the gardens integrity. But I know you can’t throw all this information to them and expect them to take care of the garden from the moment you leave. Since I’m not around to check on or personally maintain the designs I’ve done I send my clients emails periodically. Sending emails during important times in the garden season, like when to do the Spring cleaning chop or a friendly reminder to weed until the plants have filled in.

Looking dapper, Austin poses in front of a show garden at the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Looking dapper, Austin poses in front of a show garden at the 2015 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Chelsea Flower Show has been criticized for its heavy reliance on show gardens and overlooking the Floral Marquee where the real stars are the plants. How do you feel about the gulf between the plants people and the designers? The expectations foisted on plants people to produce unseasonal plants in peak form for the show gardens can be stressful, yet the media attention is focused on the challenges garden designers face in realizing their plans to fruition before judging.

The media makes the show gardens the top priority, but when you’re in the hustle and bustle that is Chelsea I think everyone shines at their particular sector of the industry. There’s no doubt how special and unique the show is and how much it influences/inspires the industry worldwide.

I actually heard a lot of talk about using seasonal plants this year, but mostly pertaining to the repetition of similar plant material in all gardens. I don’t know how much of the plant material is forced too much out of season, because I heard a lot of talk about what it would be like to have Chelsea perhaps in the Fall or late Summer? It seems as though many gardens plant choices over lap and so you tend to see some trends repeated year after year. This years popular grasses were Luzula nivea, Melica altissima ‘alba’, Deschampsia cespitosa, and Briza media. These grasses are used because their early bloomers, but what if they could use all the great Miscanthus, Panicum, and Pennisetum?

Landscape architecture is often depicted as a profession where the plants are secondary to hardscaping. One well-known horticulturist was dismissive of landscape architects, saying that drawing bubbles and circles in place of plants was not real gardening and did not respect the plants’ specific requirements. You are about to enroll in the landscape architecture masters program at Greenwich, and the tangible connection to plants may be lost. What mindset will you adopt during the program?

I am at  University of Greenwich to enrich my technical background (AutoCAD and 3-D modeling), drafting and to learn how to use space. Studying in London I’m going to be surrounded with undeniably some of the best parks, landscape, and gardening culture. My passion for plants will be enhanced from my curiosity and living in such a green community.

Propagation trays of plants, and plants in finishing containers fill the polytunnels at Orchard Dene where Austin worked last spring.
Propagation trays of plants, and plants in finishing containers fill the polytunnels at Orchard Dene where Austin worked last spring.

The Marchants’ wholesale nursery Orchard Dene, where you spent last spring (2015) working, is the chief supplier for garden designers seeking grasses and herbaceous perennials that govern the current look. How has your time there influenced and broadened your planting perspective?

Spending time at Orchard Dene Nursery this spring was a great experience, as I wanted to see first hand the plant process it takes from seed to job site. While at Orchard Dene I was doing a lot of propagation (pricking out, cuttings and divisions) and potting. Having worked at an impeccable nursery growing quality plant material in peat-free compost, it was an excellent place to see how a nursery should be ran. I was lucky to be immersed in a nursery with such an array of hardy long-lived perennials to choose.

Orchard Dene primarily sells to designers such as: Dan Pearson, Tom Stuart Smith, Marcus Barnett and Cleve West. It was exciting to go through their pulled plant orders to get a glimpse of some of the combinations they were putting together in their designs. Working intimately with plants whether it is in your own garden or working with them in a nursery helps you understand better their characteristics and environmental needs.

Austin counts Cassian Schmidt as one of his influential mentors, and Cassian's pivotal work at Hermmanshof in Germany has spawned similar schemes worldwide.
Austin counts Cassian Schmidt as one of his influential mentors, and Cassian’s pivotal work at Hermmanshof in Germany has spawned similar schemes worldwide.

You are a veteran of European gardens after visiting them in Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, and England. What differences have you perceived among the gardens in those countries? There will be obvious overlaps in plants and styles, but each culture views their gardens differently.

In the Netherlands I found that the Dutch are very possessive of their land. They put hedges around their property border to show that it’s theirs and they love clean lines, very linear. England has a very high maintenance regime and spends more time in the garden than sitting to enjoy it. For example: rose training/trimming, intense vegetable gardens, and espalier. Germans have a very practical /scientific approach to gardening. They do their research and make sure their plantings are well thought out.

 This prairie-inspired planting of Echinacea paradoxa, Platycodon grandiflorus, Solidago rigida var. humilis, and Nassella (syn. Stipa) tenuissima at Hermannshof may appear effortless to the casual eye, but is the rigorous result of the Teutonic approach. Such plantings mark a difference that Austin notices between English and continental European gardens.
This prairie-inspired planting of Echinacea paradoxa, Platycodon grandiflorus, Solidago rigida var. humilis, and Nassella (syn. Stipa) tenuissima at Hermannshof may appear effortless to the casual eye, but is the rigorous result of the Teutonic approach. Such plantings mark a difference that Austin notices between English and continental European gardens.
For a garden that derives its conception from scientific discipline (the study of plant communities and ecological concepts), but presents a beautiful, humanizing portrayal of ‘re-interpreted’ wild gardens, Hermmanshof can be a trans formative experience for anyone used to municipal-style parks or public gardens. What did you take away from your time working there?
Not coming from such a scientific approach as Hermannshof, I found it interesting to see the deep understanding of the plants seasonality, maintenance, and vigor. Hermannshof gave me a better understanding of combinations, a new plant palette, and maintenance techniques. Working with the skilled gardeners was essential, as I was able to ask questions to grasp the New German gardening system.

One forte of English gardens is their layering of woody plants with bulbs and herbaceous perennials. For instance, Beth Chatto’s woodland garden is an outstanding example of a celebrated virtuoso orchestrating understory shrubs, bulbs, and shade perennials. Shrubs are not always regulated to hedges or topiary, but become key features in mixed borders. You had mentioned that your knowledge of shrubs is still in its infancy, but expect it to change. Are you of the Dutch and Belgian mentality of having woody plants sheared into tight frameworks or you prefer the natural forms, like the apple orchard with its meadow?

I don’t use a lot of shrubs in my current foundation residential design work, but would like to on larger scale projects. I think hedged and natural shrub forms are both useful in design. Since my style is very naturalistic and free flowing, using a sheared hedge behind a naturalistic planting just makes things feel harmonious. I also would use shrubs for their natural form when I place them within a design, just depends on the specific feeling of the space.

Left to right: Adam Woodruff, Piet Oudolf, Austin, and Roy Diblik
Left to right: Adam Woodruff, Piet Oudolf, Austin, and Roy Diblik

What influential people or individuals have you been inspired by?

I was first inspired to using hardy, long-lived perennials when I saw Roy Diblik speak in 2008 at Iowa State University’s Shade Tree Short Coarse my freshman year. His discussion about The “Know” Maintenance Garden changed my whole outlook on gardening. He became one of my mentors alongside Piet Oudolf, Cassian Schmidt and Adam Woodruff. You cannot underestimate the power of a good mentor, people in the horticulture industry are so willing to share the knowledge they’ve collected over the years. You just have to ask!

Piet Oudolf obviously has become an invaluable mentor and friend as you had the fortunate privilege and opportunity to work alongside him on private commissions in North America. Any tips or techniques you wish to divulge from watching one of the eminent maestros of free-form perennial planting design? 
One technique I learned from Piet was his skillful plant layout format. Taking it one layer at a time is essential to create masterpieces like his work. Depending on the scheme/design, first start by laying out the scatter/individual plants that are  woven among the block planting. Whether it be the sweeping artfully picked grasses or perennials, fill in the rest of the block areas with the appropriate scheme. When working on such a large scale, paying attention to the small details is  as critical as keeping track of the overall picture. When laying out the plants, step back once and awhile and keep an eye on the surroundings to keep the fluidity of the design.

Name and describe some of your favorite plants.

Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta

This plant is a great buffer/groundcover plant that can intermingle with almost any plant. Its petite foliage are a glossy bright green, which comes up as almost a ball form. But when it starts to bloom it has a more open habit. It has thousands of these miniature soft blue, but white to the eye bell shaped flowers that seem to hold on forever. Calamintha blooms from mid summer till frost, then leaves turn a deep purple in autumn.

Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'
Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’

Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ – I can’t seem to take my eye off this grass. It gets hundreds of magical one-inch caterpillar-like seed heads that dangle horizontally, in which seems like midair. This drought tolerant grass gets 3’x2’ and keeps its structure through the winter.

In Austin's home garden, Allium 'Summer Beauty', is a workhouse shrugging off the Midwest extremes to produce a reliable display. Here the red bobs of Sanguisorba officinalis orbit around the allium flowers.
In Austin’s home garden, Allium ‘Summer Beauty’, is a workhouse shrugging off the Midwest extremes to produce a reliable display. Here the red bobs of Sanguisorba officinalis orbit around the allium flowers.

Allium ‘Summer Beauty’- This well-rounded perennial can grow in full sun to part shade. Not only is this plant drought tolerant but, almost loves complete neglect. I can’t help but love this plant in every season. Its vivacious, shiny green seaweed-like foliage all summer long and it’s over 150 golf ball sized lavender blooms dangling above the foliage. This plant holds up to it’s name ‘Summer Beauty.’ Not to mention a bee and butterflies best friend. Plant turns a liquid gold color in the autumn with the spent blooms looking perky all winter long.

Your desert island plant?

Monarda bradburiana– This plant just has it all. Its mildew-free foliage in spring starts out a luscious burgundy, then has a gorgeous soft pink flower with fuchsia dots on each petal, pink bracts and a sweet smell. Its pinhead cushion seed heads might even top the flower by turning rosy pink after blooming. In autumn the foliage turns back to a rich burgundy-red. If that isn’t enough you can also make tea out of the foliage.

unnamedGerminating the seed of interest in plants for young kids who are increasingly immersed in a virtual world isn’t easy – you obviously had some young visitors to your Iowan garden. How did their reactions differ from adults who are already avid gardeners?
With my interest in gardening starting as a child, I want to share with the younger generations the beauty and enjoyment that you can get from nature. If you don’t get to the youth before they become connected to the digital world, the natural work becomes more difficult to integrate into their realm. With no preconceived concept of gardening, kids in general are more open to experimenting, without feeling they are going to make a mistake.

What advice do you wish to give to those keen on a profession as a garden designer?

You’re lucky to have found a career where you can make people happy by giving them an oasis and surround yourself by passionate people who love what they do. Get to know your plants, the best way is through growing them yourself; don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Take advantage of networking with as many professionals in the industry as possible, because the great thing about horticulturist is most people are willing to share their knowledge to better the profession. Get a good mentor you look up to that will set you in the right path.

What do you look forward to?

I’m looking forward to exploring more natural plant habitats around the world and seeing how plants are growing in their natural homes.

Thank you Austin for your interview!  ~ Eric

Anatomy of a Garden: Stone Arches

Stone Arches derive its name from the front porch of the house. Here the ambient temperature is cool and comfortable, encouraging summer evenings of socializing and relaxation. Each arch creates a different garden view.
Stone Arches derive its name from the front porch of the house. Here the ambient temperature is cool and comfortable, encouraging summer evenings of socializing and relaxation. Each arch creates a different garden view.

Although the winters can be long and snowy, the cooler summers (warm days and cool nights) are perfect for herbaceous perennials and woody plants hardy enough to withstand the climate (Zone 5B to Zone 6A) at Stone Arches. Epimediums, ferns, astilbes, and woodland perennials seem healthier and larger than the equivalents in warmer climates. At the same time warm season, full sun perennials and grasses can be accommodated as well. Stone Arches is deer central, but Mark installed a high deer fence around the perimeter of the property.


Set in strong drifts, the hillside planting behind the glasshouse is reminiscent of Oehme, van Sweden & Associates’ signature style and Piet Oudolf’s earlier work, but differentiates itself in its addition of trees. Mark carefully chose trees with multi-seasonal interest that complements the herbaceous layer – Stewartia pseudocamellia and Acer griseum (paperbark maple). With their moderate growth, these trees do not increase rapidly enough to shade out the perennials that prefer more light. Seen somewhat in the background, the prayer flags at Dan Hinkley’s Windcliff garden near Seattle, Washington State, inspired Mark to do the same.


In grand planting schemes, some plants need monitoring because their declining health or dieback can lead to noticeable visual gaps. Notoriously short-lived, achilleas are tricky. However the site’s light sandy soil should suit these achilleas, although those gardening on clay may struggle to overwinter them. Their corymbs echo the sedums in the lower right corner, and contrast well with Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’, Helenium ‘Dancing Flames’ and Liatris spicata. Schizachyrium scoparium [Blue Heaven] = “MinnblueA” is beginning to send out its inflorescences.