Recently fellow blogger James at View From Federal Twist wrote a post where he relayed an overheard comment about his garden. Seems a house guest did not think his garden was a real one, perhaps preferring something with more formality or tradition. Regardless, this created an excellent opportunity to discuss just what qualifies as a garden. Do a few plants in pots on a balcony constitute a garden? How about a prairie set on fire to encourage some plants at the detriment of others? What about a patch of cosmos and daylilies planted by the highway department or a Zen garden of raked sand? In my own neighborhood should wetland restoration with native plantings count? In my mind, all of these qualify as gardening, but to others, perhaps not.
This summer I had the chance to see James' garden for myself as my family, my brother and I descended upon him on the last day of our vacation. His home and garden are set among the woods in western New Jersey (necessarily surrounded by deer fencing). Though some gardening takes place out front, most of what James has accomplished is on the other side of the house. The garden's look could best be termed "new American" or "bold romantic" in the style of Piet Oudolf or Van Sweden and Oehme, but is actually more James Golden than James van Sweden. The garden has large drifts of grasses, punctuated by naturalistic plantings of perennials, shrubs and trees. Linking the different areas of the garden and house is a pleasant gravel pathway, as well as a terrace which has a commanding view of the creation. The whole garden appears as if it arose naturally from the surrounding landscape, fitting in seamlessly with the architecture of the house. It is indeed a real garden.
The day we were there was not a good day to be outside. It was hot and humid even by southern standards, and the harsh afternoon light made for poor photos. But what the weather took away from the day, circumstance gave back. Perhaps the focal point of James' garden is a sculpture created by Marc Rosenquist, and we were fortunate enough to be there while he and his wife Gail were visiting too. After a leisurely garden tour, we spent a little time in the AC with a glass of wine and conversation - it was a great way to spend our last full day in the north country.
Thank you James and Phil