An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

October 5, 2010

A Real Garden

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.

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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

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  1. It looks like a very lovely garden indeed. Not "real" -- hmph! Thanks for sharing your pics.

  2. How could anyone not think this is a garden and it being a wonderful one at that. A garden is very personal and no one has a patent on what a garden is. James has created a lovely naturalist garden and I would guess wild things love it too. Very beautiful photos regardless of the heat and sun. ;>)

  3. Les,
    What a great post. One day I hope to visit James' garden. Your photographs were excellent. It gives me a different viewpoint than that of James.That is a particularly nice shot of what looks to be a river of mountain mint. A garden? YES, avery fine one.

  4. No invite back to those people.

    We all have to be reminded to open our eyes sometimes and let it all in. We have to educate them about the possibility that it is ok to be different and unlike the "garden" in your head.

  5. I guess that's why we have vanilla and chocolate....but it looks pretty freakin' amazing to me!

  6. Very jealous of your visit. That's all. James does what I hope I can do some day when I get a larger chunk of land.

  7. Thanks for introducing us to a beautiful garden and a talented gardener. Lovely woodland!

    By the way, the commenter should check out the etymology of "garden": enclosure...

  8. Interesting. I wonder if the guest had any idea that they were overheard? And what does their (the guest) garden consist of I wonder? I had a visiting friend make a similar remark to me about my front garden. It always amazes me the different reactions people can have to something.

  9. I sometimes enjoyed my five flower pots on the apartment balcony more than my current 5-acre "garden" because they always brought me tranquility, and that's what I feel from James' garden.

  10. Pam,
    You are welcome.

    My favorite gardens are those where the gardener has made an incredibly personal creation, and this was one.

    I think that was Mt. Mint. Knowing plants is a huge part of my job, but there were a few things there I was not familiar with.

    I guess it is the same way with music and cuisine, not all genres are to everyone's taste.

    It was amazing and had more than 32 flavors.

    It is probably a good thing I don't have as much space. It would be given over to camellias and hydrangeas and one each of everything else.

    Thanks for the link.

    Being in a very urban setting, my front porch is not far from the street, and I often overhear comments from people walking by. The majority are very complimentary, but a few have used the words "jungle" or "out of control".

    Yes it is.

    Your comments made me look back to a favorite little herb garden I put in at our last house. I could stand in one spot and reach everything. I was a very pleased newbie.


  11. Hey, thanks for the post, Les. Please stop by next year if you're up this way. Maybe I'll have made some progress on those unfinished areas.

  12. I couldn't agree more...I've been visiting his blog for a while now, and am totally in awe of what he has accomplished, it's pretty much my dream garden! I'm so jealous you actually got to visit in person...thanks for the photos!

  13. Well if that isn't real, nothing in life is! There are so many garden 'types' and 'styles'--who is to say what does and does not 'qualify'?! I like the natural look, personally. That's quite an interesting sculpture. Sounds like you had a fascinating visit. It's always so rewarding to meet fellow bloggers;-)

  14. This is an absolutely beautiful garden. I would spend all my time here! Your photos are wonderful,(as usual) despite the heat!

  15. What a gorgeous and natural looking garden. Thanks for sharing your visit and the lovely photos with us. You really captured his garden beautifully. I agree with you Les, any patch or pot that is planted constitutes a garden to me as well. :)

  16. James,
    The thanks should be all mine, and I would love to see your progress.

    I am glad you enjoyed the post.

    Yes there are so many styles, and I am glad they are diverse. If we all liked the same things, what a boring world it would be.

    Thank you for the kind comments. Come back anytime.

    I even like when people decorate with plastic flowers outside. Anything is better than doing nothing.


  17. Les--I draw the line at plastic flowers!

  18. James' former houseguests sure have a narrow view of the world and gardening in particular it appears. That is one lovely creattion.