Foreign Gardeners: Carrie, from the U.S. to the Netherlands

My introduction to Carrie Preston was through a mutual friend and other half of Plinth et al. Eric, when we were putting together a list of interesting candidates to interview for our Foreign Gardener series.  After seeing some of Carrie’s projects and learning that she was living in the Netherlands, I was even more excited and intrigued, having lived there myself. It’s an incredibly beautiful country to live in and experience so I was curious to see it from a different perspective and point of view and through the eyes of  Carrie. Her immense talent in horticulture is obvious, from which you will see,  and I found her openness and candor about her life there refreshing. Thank you Carrie. – James


Contemplating the next project….

Hello Carrie, a pleasure to speak with you and get to know more about your work. I know what you incredible work you do but would you please share with our readers who you are and in what aspect of the horticulture world you work in?

Carrie Preston and I presently work as a designer of mostly residential gardens through my own design studio, Studio TOOP. I started the business 10 years ago.

a small cross-section of the landscape in New Jersey

Where are you originally from and where did you move to?

I am originally from New Jersey (on the Shore), USA and I studied in Pennsylvania, in the Delaware Valley. After a short internship here in 1998, followed by a year and a half of traveling, I moved to the Netherlands in 2000.

Hummelo 2000
early Dutch memories, already smiling among the plants

What was it that made you decide that you wanted to move to the Netherlands?

I could come up with all sorts of rational reasons why I wanted to go to the Netherlands – excellence in horticulture, urban design and planning, central location in Europe, left-leaning politics – and all those reasons would be valid and true. But the heart of the matter is, there was a girl in my kindergarten class who moved to the Netherlands with her family. We were pen pals for a while, but the letters faded. Still I was left with a fascination with the Netherlands and a desire to visit. It gained a sort of mythology for me, and so when the time came to travel and see the world after I finish my studies, the Netherlands was at the top of my list of places to go.

‘It is remarkable how life has crossroads and how powers outside yourself sometimes decide things for you.’

The move was meant to be temporary, but life has a way of happening. I originally came here for an internship. I then made a trip around the world before coming back to NL for what I thought would be masters study in Landscape Architecture (I have a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture and Sustainable Agriculture that I earned in the U.S.). I wound up not finishing the study but stayed in NL because of a relationship and before you know it, here I am, almost 18 years later. It is remarkable how life has crossroads and how powers outside yourself sometimes decide things for you.

Studio TOOP  Hof van de vierde sortie
Studio TOOP Hof van de vierde sortie
 Can you share with us some of the daily responsibilities that come with your job at Studio Toop?

I generally have between 8 and 12 projects going at once. Design work is an intense process and I spend a lot of time really getting to know my client and the location. Besides the design I also am involved during the build process and often do the planting myself. Over the years I have developed a great team of experts who I work with and rely on for different aspects of the job – from technical drawing to masonry to management of complex planting schemes after the garden is realized.

Studio TOOP  Hof van de vierde sortie
Studio TOOP Hof van de vierde sortie

There are always benefits to doing things outside of your comfort zone. What would you say you have found to be some of those benefits to living abroad as a gardener?

Living abroad forces you to challenge your assumptions, also in regards to landscape. Things like foundation plantings in the U.S. or the ubiquitous fence or hedge here, you question. Why is this done? Is it appropriate here? Because the default mode is different in different places, you become aware that it is a default mode and know that another solution is always possible. This allows you to think in solutions and to design with intention.

details of a Dutch life and landscape

 In addition to this, the Netherlands has very unique relationship to nature, being that so much of the land is man-made. This challenged a lot of my notions of the natural and made me see the make-ability of many landscapes. I have become more free in how I approach a space now than I think might I had not lived here. I am not afraid to radically change a space, if it has purpose. My view of the natural has become less romantic and more pragmatic – very Dutch!

Smalle_tuinkamer-Afb-10The flatness of the landscape here has taught me the power of tiny elevation changes and I have become a master of small spaces.

What has been wonderful about living here is the ready availability and affordability of plants. The Netherlands has an almost incomparable nursery industry. It has been possible for me, even with a limited budget, to experiment with plants in a way I likely couldn’t have elsewhere.

Inclusieve_Tuin_juni2013-Slider-04With the positive points there are always a few negative ones. What would you say are some of the difficulties you have encountered in your new country?

One of things I most underestimated is that when you move to a new country you completely give up your network. This might be less the case now than it was 18 years ago, but all those small contacts you make throughout the years — the person you know from that class you took when you were a kid, or that friend of your father’s or friend of a friend – all those small connections that can help you get things done, bring you clients, be your in, they are all gone. Add to that the language difficulty and your illiteracy with the subtleties of the culture and it is much harder to navigate many situations. The job you would have easily in your home country, you don’t get because you came on too strong, or worded things in a way that lacked subtly, or just aren’t familiar in a way that works.

There comes a point that this shifts. That you understand the culture and language well enough to navigate its subtleties and then your foreignness becomes charming and something that helps people remember you by. But for me that was an investment that took several years.

Specific to the Dutch situation in combination with my personality is that the Dutch tend to value the understated and a more reserved quality. I tend to be very “present” which is something that is very much encouraged in American culture but is frowned upon in Dutch culture. In Dutch culture the goal often seems to be to not to stand out. I am not good at that. Early on in my years here I struggled to tone things down. I think maybe I have, but now I know the culture well enough that I can successfully be bold and my own person without this being off putting like it was in the beginning.

Inclusieve_Tuin_juni2013-Afb-06What have some of the struggles been in the horticulture field while there?

In the Netherlands the distinction between public and private space is quite significant. There is a limited amount of space that falls in between smaller residential gardens and larger public space. Few companies have campuses and larger properties and estates are really the exception, at least in the urban west where I live. This means I have to work very hard to earn a good living. Slowly I am building enough of a reputation and and marketing myself differently so as to attract larger projects with larger financial returns. Out of a sort of idealism I think I waited too long with this. I believe in making gardens for more typical households, but doing so means I need to do a lot more assignments to earn enough. I am still trying to find the balance in this.

Studio Toop understands the importance and beauty of detail…

When I came here a sort of bare minimalism was very much in fashion. Coming from a culture with a much more romantic image of gardens and a much more romantic idea of nature, this was confronting and alienating. At first I really couldn’t relate to or appreciate the style but through the years it has grown on me. I understand the need for clarity in such limited space. The straight lines in the designs of gardens echo that of the landscape. It makes sense here. That said, I have never converted to the more extreme, starker minimalism that appeals to some of my Dutch colleagues. My designs have always maintained a sort of nonchalance and finding a way to combine this with the Dutch clarity has become something distinctive about the way I work.

leisure in the landscape, the wonderful Dutch outlook on enjoying life

So, on the flip side what was a surprising change that you have welcomed and enjoyed outside of the realm you were used to?

It’s always ironic how these things work, but the aspect of Dutch culture that I found most difficult at first has wound up being the thing that is probably the healthiest and best influence on me. Dutch culture is not ambitious or competitive in the same way that American, or more generally, Anglo-Saxon, culture is. There is much more a collective sense of things. If we achieve, we achieve things as a group. There are subtle discouragements and controls to make sure you don’t stand out or excel too much.

To a large extent this is a way of being I have difficulty identifying with – or did for a long time. It can definitely be a negative thing, not allowing people to grow and be all they can be. But it can also be positive in the sense that there is much more of a life work balance and much more enjoyment of what you do and have achieved, rather than constantly looking for your next goal and comparing yourself either with others or some unrealistic ideal of who you think should be. I am a recovering perfectionist and Dutch culture, and to a large extent, this aspect of it, have been instrumental in that recovery.

Holland is a forgiving place, where if you mess up, there are safety nets and second chances. I’ve had a couple of tough years for various reasons and NL has been a kind and forgiving place to fall apart and put myself back together – to learn to be kinder to myself and to know that I am more than the things I do or how I perform.

Tell us now how you found your current job?

I made my current job. I had come here right after graduating from college without having had any real valuable work experience yet in the US. Coming to NL really set me back. It was near impossible for me to find a job at first. All the niches seemed so well defined and it felt like I fell between the grooves and wasn’t qualified to do much of anything. I did  what I could: yard work, cleaning houses, working at at cafe. I tried working at a garden center but I was only allowed to work the register and forbidden to really talk to customers. I tried finding a job at a botanical garden and wasn’t even granted an interview. Frustrated, I earned a teaching degree with the idea that it would offer me some financial stability and the option to work part time while I built my own business. And that’s what I did. I taught school part time for 3 years before choosing to focus full time on my business.

DSC_1488I am very aware, from having lived there, that the Netherlands landscape is very flat compared to the U.S., how has this difference played out in your work, or affected your way of thinking while designing?

The landscape here makes you respect and value small changes in elevation. I causes you to think about space differently. Also the linearity of the landscape has very much affected my work.

What advice would you give to others in your situation, who are about to make this sort of transition similar to yours?

I think the world now is such a different place than it was 18 years ago when I moved. You can make contacts ahead of time before you move somewhere. You can build your network from afar. You can, and I think should, make use of these opportunities. I went into this transition rather blind, without a clear goal or strategy. I would not do this again, and while it has worked out for me, it has set me back some years. I can argue those “wasted years” fed and formed me in different and valuable ways and they have. Life in whatever form, always does.  It was a difficult route though.

Before this change took place what kinds of things did you do to prepare yourself for the Netherlands?

I read some books on Dutch culture and language but it was all fairly superficial and didn’t really prepare me for reality. But 18 years ago information was so, so much harder to find.

IMG_1208Now that you find yourself more settled, what is one of the greater memories you have so far of your experiences your new environment?

What I really love, and will never tire of, is the amazing diversity of landscapes in a small area. I hike and bike a lot and in one day I can find myself in expansive heather fields in the morning, biking through an agricultural landscape in the afternoon and then sitting at a cafe or visiting a cultural event in Amsterdam or Utrecht in the evening. And this isn’t a once in a while, what a great moment kind of thing. This is a normal lifestyle for me. I love and am thankful for that.

Vleuten-Afb-04Prior to the big move, if you could give your younger self some advice for this life change, what would it have been?

Don’t try too hard to adapt. Don’t overcompensate. You are not Dutch and that is okay. You can respect this new environment without losing sight of who you are and the strengths this offers you.

A lived in garden is a successful garden, clearly Studio Toop knows…

Now, before you go, please let us know what is your new favorite plant that you can grow now that you weren’t able to grow before?

I think it is more the general lushness of the plants I can grow that I love. Lots of rain equals lots of happy plants.

Thanks for taking the time to be a part of our Foreign Gardener series Carrie, we appreciate the insight on the life of a gardener overseas.  If you’d like to ask Carrie a question or comment please do so below, and to read further about the incredible work Carrie and Studio Toop is creating please click on the links provided. Thank you again Carrie.  – James

Website: StudioToop: gardens with life


Instagram: @studiotoop

Facebook: Studio TOOP

Pinterest: Studio TOOP

Houzz: Studio TOOP

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

Yellow Rattle

DeWiersse Meadow
DeWiersse wildflower meadow with Taxus cubes

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.

DeWiersse Meadow
DeWiersse mix with Ox-eye daisy and Camassia quamash

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.

Rhinanthus minor and Camassia quamash

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.

Nature reserve meadow
A mixed meadow in a local nature reserve not far from DeWiersse

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?

Nature reserve meadow
One field, which is almost entirely devoid of Hay Rattle is almost overcome by vigorous grasses.
Nature reserve field
The more Hay Rattle, the more diversity.


Nature Reserve Orchids
Space in the meadow opens areas for native orchids such as Dactylorhiza fuchsii and a night blooming Orchid (still trying to i.d. its Latin name)
Orchid Meadow
Only this many orchids in one place can happen with the help of the yellow blooming Rhinanthus minor


DeWiersse, West Lawn
West Lawn vista



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



DeWiersse meadow
clipped yew set among the meadow
Rhododendrons help make the bones of the garden
vista across the outer moat towards the formal Rose garden



transitioning into the wild garden which was inspired by William Robinson




a clipped serpentine Beech tunnel and the Beech allee vista towards the discus thrower

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.

Sunk garden


each day finishes with a spectacular ending, West Lawn at DeWiersse

Dutch Delight


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!

Stacking Wood


Storm knocked over a few trees in your garden? Have a ton of excess firewood and not sure where to store it? Once your wood pile is stacked to the brim, take a tip from these creative folks.  When visiting gardens in the Netherlands, I came across this beautifully built decorative fence made up of tree trunks.  I am not sure if this is the area where they stack the wood or if it is a semi-permanent decorative feature, how many seasons it would last. Either way it is a novel way to turn an unsightly woodpile into a eye pleasing decorative element. Just one more way to squeeze an extra use out of a beautiful tree before it is used to warm you up during the colder months.  -James