The Making of Three Gardens

 

Oh, sit back in your most comfortable chair; pour a strong coffee; open a box of the most delicious chocolates; browse this book and you will be in gardener’s heaven. From front cover to back this book is a dream and a delight; we cannot imagine that we will ever have a garden comparable to those shown on its pages but we certainly can appreciate and enjoy them. They are examples of the most wonderful creativity, imagination, architectural dexterity, installation perfection, aesthetic beauty and no shortage of disposable income!

The Making of Three Gardens COVER (1)

Jorge Sánchez is a principle partner of SMI Landscape Architecture in Palm Beach, Florida, an award-winning firm with clients throughout the United States and the Bahamas. The company is best known for its public gardens and street planning as well as large private gardens and this book presents three of these private gardens, two in Florida and one in New York. These gardens, by location and scale, are quite apart from our usual experience of gardens yet, by their art and design and planting, they transcend geographical boundaries and have a universal appeal. They are superb examples of art in gardening.

Though the gardens presented are quite fabulous and the author enjoys an enormously successful career with innumerable highly praised projects his voice, as he writes this book, is one of openness and humility where he generously acknowledges those who influenced and inspired him in his work and lavishly praises those with whom he collaborates and those who implement his designs. His accounts give an open and honest insight into his approach to each garden design – which is one of consultation and collaboration – and he explains the reasons behind his designs and changes in design as work progresses. It was all wonderfully informative and very pleasant reading.

The Making of Three Gardens (5)

The Making of Three Gardens (2)

The photography is by Andre Baranowski and is quite outstanding, a perfect accompaniment to the text and, along with the design plans, gives the reader a perfect insight and understanding of the designs and the gardens.

The Making of Three Gardens (7)

The Making of Three Gardens (6)

I suppose we might describe this as a coffee table book but it is far more than that. Yes, the photographs alone would allow it to be enjoyed without reading a word – as is the case with most coffee table books – but the text is so well written and such a pleasure to read that to relegate it to the coffee table would be a terrible disservice. Instead, read it with that coffee and chocolate for a truly enjoyable experience!

The Making of Three Gardens, Jorge Sánchez, Photography by Andre Baranowski, Merrell, London, 2017, Hardback, 208 pages, £45, ISBN: 978-1-8589-4665-8

Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

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Head Gardeners

Ambra Edwards has given us a treasure of a book, a joy to read, insightful, informative and provocative. I have enjoyed it immensely and recommend it unreservedly.

She has interviewed fourteen head gardeners, a diverse group with only a few fitting the stereotypical image, yet all might be described as people at the pinnacle of gardening achievement with a wealth of experience, wisdom and green thumbs and, thankfully, a willingness to share their lives and insights with us.

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Those of us who are interested in this subject, this book and the people presented to us in it, are most likely gardeners ourselves and I feel this puts us immediately at a disadvantage as we begin our reading for we have a concept of gardening and what a gardener is based on our own experience and this leaves us frightfully ill informed and terribly misguided regarding the life and work of a head gardener. “Gardening” as we know it – the tending of plants and gardens – forms but a very small aspect of the work of the present day head gardener. Garden management is a major part of the job, the organisation, guidance and training of those who work with them. Gardens must not only be tended and developed they must also be sold to the gardening public so as to finance the garden work. He head gardener is the one who must look to the future, not simply a year ahead but to where the gardens will be in ten years or even one hundred years from now. And then, the head gardener will be the one who must ensure the gates are closed, the lights switched off, the staff paid, the blog written, requisites ordered and checked on delivery and the list goes on and on. The head gardener must truly juggle innumerable duties and be master of them all.

The selection of head gardeners featured in this book appears to have been chosen to present the reader with a wide range of garden types and head gardener experiences; it is certainly eclectic, interesting and entertaining. Some of the usual limelight head gardeners are here – Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter springs immediately to mind and the reader might wonder what is there left to read about him as he has been interviewed here, there and everywhere already but I found it one of the most insightful of portraits which revealed aspects of his character and practices at Great Dixter which I had not known of previously and was a perfect example of the depth of the interviews conducted by the author and representative of the others in the book.

As for the other thirteen head gardeners in the book, I feel I would spoil a great enjoyment on you if I revealed them to you here. Some you will acknowledge immediately as deserving of their place in the book while others may surprise you but when you have read their chapter you will understand why they were so very deservedly included. Mike Calnan, Head of Gardens at the National Trust is quoted in the introduction: “It’s difficult to imagine a class of people who have such tremendous skills, who contribute so much to society and who are so thoroughly undervalued.” I can only add that society needs to read this excellent book and this perception will be blown to the winds.

Finally, one statement which I loved and which epitomises the honesty throughout the book. When garden designers are hogging the limelight and are viewed as the stars of the horticultural world it is good to read Alistair Clark, head gardener at Portrack in Dumphries which houses Charles Jencks’ “Garden of Cosmic Speculation”: “Charles is a clever, clever man, there’s no disputing that. But he doesn’t know the first thing about horticulture. He didn’t when he first came to Portrack and I don’t think he does yet.”

Head Gardeners, A Celebration of the most exciting gardeners working in Britain today,  Ambra Edwards with photographs by Charlie Hopkinson. Pimpernel Press, London, 2017, Hardback, 240 pages, £35, ISBN: 9781910258743240.

Paddy Tobin

 

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

 

 

Too Good to be True?

Have some entertainment gardens left the practices of normal gardening so far to the side that they have become artifices of what a garden should be? Has the desire to be a constantly perfect attraction lead to gardening in a manner and style which is far removed not alone from the practices of the common gardener but from nature itself? Of course, the reasons are perfectly understandable – the desire to attract more and more paying visitors and increased cash flow – normal gardening practices, even good taste, are often sacrificed for these gains.

Troy Scott Smith is the latest head gardener at Sissinghurst Castle Garden has made some interesting comments on the state of the garden and his future plans for it. “Sissinghurst”, he says, “has lost its way. In becoming a totem of horticultural perfectionism, it has forgotten what it really is.” On his appointment, he gave himself time to review the present situation in the garden, going back to the gardening notes of the garden’s creators Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. He concluded that the garden had changed radically over the years since her death and nowadays could be more considered the garden of Pam Schwerdt and Sibylle Kreutzberger who had been employed as gardeners by Viva Sackville-West in 1959 and who continued to manage the gardens until 1991. Their successors, Sarah Cook and Alexis Darta continued to maintain the gardens in the style and manner which Pam and Sibylle had established and which the visiting public had come to expect.

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Troy Scott Smith is pictured on the cover of Ambra Edward’s book

Under their care the gardens had been brought to a level of perfection rarely seen elsewhere as they wished the garden to look at its best for every day that it was open to the public. Troy Scott Smith believes that the garden no longer reflects the style or the intentions of its creator, being too perfect, fails to show how a gardens changes through the seasons and has concluded that two thirds of the plants grown were introduced by Pam and Sibylle with several of today’s much admired features introduced by Sarah and Alexis all distancing the gardens further from its creator and that now it is time to return it to how Vita Sackville-West imagined it.

Developments at Sissinghurst will be of interest as Troy Scott Smith makes the changes he has in mind. You can read further on his thoughts in a recently published book, Head Gardeners, by Ambra Edwards, published by Pimpernel Press and you can hear Troy Scott Smith speak to the Cork Alpine and Hardy Plant Society in Cork on Thursday, 25th January, 2018 or on Wednesday 24th January 2018 in Enniscorthy at the Co. Wexford Garden & Flower Club..   Both groups welcome non-members – at a small charge.

In general and for the sake of fairness and balance we should consider this perfectionism in gardens from another perspective. We must realise that all gardens are  the construct of the gardener and are always a departure from or, at least, a control of nature. Perhaps, those who have developed gardens of perpetual perfection as discussed above have simply moved further than most along the continuum between what nature dictates and what the gardener can control. We can admire them for the lengths they have gone to in achieving such perfection though it might be a case of being happy to admire such gardens rather than imitating them. It is a question of how much control is too much.

Paddy Tobin

Head Gardeners, A Celebration of the most exciting gardeners working in Britain today,  Ambra Edwards with photographs by Charlie Hopkinson. Pimpernel Press, London, 2017, Hardback, 240 pages, £35, ISBN: 9781910258743240.

The Cork Alpine and Hardy Plant Society meets at the Lavanagh Centre, Ballintemple, Cork on the fourth Thursday of the month.

‘Barnes’ is the first!

The first snowdrop of the year is always awaited with excitement and anticipation. Yes, I have already had snowdrops in flower in the glasshouse, as early  this year as the end of September, but those in the garden are the ones most valued and appreciated for they show the wonder of the snowdrop – a little flower which can deft the weather and the season and thrive at what is a most inclement time of the years for flowers and for gardeners.

Galanthus elwesii monostictus 'Barnes' (14)
The first of the snowdrops to flower in the open garden.

Galanthus elwesii monostictus 'Barnes' (13)

Galanthus elwesii generally has two green marks on each of the three inner segments but there is group within the genus which has a single mark only which is why they are known as Galanthus elwesii  monostictus, literally one mark. There are several cultivars within this group and the one which does best in my garden is this one, called ‘Barnes’.

Galanthus elwesii monostictus 'Barnes' (12)
Galanthus elwesii monostictus ‘Barnes’
Galanthus elwesii monostictus 'Barnes' (6)
Galanthus elwesii monostictus ‘Barnes’

I have a special fondness for Galanthus elwesii monostictus as it was the first snowdrop I grew from seed and this at a time when the only snowdrops I had in the garden were the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, and its double form Galanthus nivalis flore pleno. Those snowdrops grown from seed are still growing well in the garden nearly thirty years after being sown and the number of varieties of snowdrops in the garden has increased to, I imagine, about 250.

Galanthus elwesii monostictus 'Barnes' (2)
Galanthus elwesii monostictus ‘Barnes’

Yet, it is always the first to open which brings the special excitement. More will follow shortly as there are several groups showing their snouts above the ground and, perhaps, a dozen varieties will have opened before Christmas, all quite early as the main snowdrop season does not arrive until February. After that the later varieties will keep the show going until March so there are snowdrops in the garden over six months of the year. Is there a plant to match such a range of flowering times or which provides interest through the dark winter months? Not that I know of and it is one reason I like them so much.

Galanthus 'Faringdon Double' through leaf
Another snowdrop just appearing is Galanthus ‘Faringdon Double’ and I like the way one has pierced the leaf as it grew reflecting the French name given to snowdrop – Perce Niege.

Paddy Tobin

The Tree at the Top of the Field

The tree at the top of the field is in view from the window where I usually sit in our house. It has been part of the scenery for many years, a native oak clothed in ivy, standing proud in the otherwise tidily cut field boundary. I have photographed it many times over the years; it gives setting and interest to colourful winter sunsets and an interesting focal point to daylight shots.

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However, our recent Hurricane Ophelia toppled it, breaking the crown and leaving it lying nearby in the field. No doubt the ivy caught the wind and contributed to its demise for it was a healthy tree. It will probably lie where it is until spring as they field will not be in use until then when it will be ploughed in preparation for a cereal crop. I imagine the broken trunk will remain standing, at least a support for the ivy, and will resprout to form a crown again though hardly as shapely as the original.

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“When the oak tree is felled the whole forest echoes with its fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze” Thomas Carlyle.

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Paddy Tobin

To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

Just in time!

Hurricane and storm delayed our annual autumn visit to Mount Usher Garden in Co. Wicklow and we feared we had left it too late this year and that the recent violent winds would have left the trees stripped of their foliage and deny us the pleasure of the display of autumn colour we have come to love.

Mount Usher (10)

Spring at Mount Usher has the magic of fabulous drifts of spring bulbs – Scilla biflora, erythroniums, wood anemones, crocus and little pockets of snowdrops but fiery autumn colour reflected on the surface of the River Dartry which flows through the garden creates one of the most magical of pictures.

Fortune smiled on us; the gales had obviously spared the foliage and, although some trees had been brought down by the storms, there was a display to delight us.

Enjoy the photographs!

Paddy Tobin

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To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

The Poet’s Apprentice!

These  past two years or so I have been apprenticed to a poet, Mark Roper, a word sorcerer so to speak – as you see he has had some effect on me! He has never attempted, perhaps realising it would be futile on his part, to impart any guidance to me on the writing of poetry; instead, we travelled together to various locations in search of our native orchids.

A common friend brought us together though this friend does not share our interest in walking bogs, sand dunes, marshes and hills as we seek these beautiful flowers and it is often just us two or in the company of a few other like-minded people that we pursue our hobby.

This has been a particularly good year for us, especially so as a fellow enthusiast, John Fogarty, from Co. Tipperary, brought us to locations previously unknown to us and which were abounding in treasures. Although we aren’t “tickers” – those who mark off and count each species seen in a season in an almost competitive manner – we do delight in seeing something new and delight equally when a friend reports on seeing a new species though we haven’t been so fortunate to be there ourselves.

It is a quiet pastime and we are both comfortable with quietness. Silence is regular and easy and we often wander off separately when on the ground searching for orchids with a call one to the other when something of interest is found.

Mark’s interests go well beyond orchids to all aspects of our natural world. He has a particular interest in bird watching though not at all restricted to that. He has written several books of poetry and two books of local Waterford interest, “The River Book”, about the River Suir and “The Backstrand Book” about an area in Tramore.

The Bee Orchid, a particular favourite and the  title of one of Mark’s poems – see below. 

Yesterday, Saturday 21st October, Mark launched his latest book of poetry, “Bindweed” to a large, enthusiastic and supportive audience at the Imagine Festival in Waterford. While he read several of the poems he didn’t read “Bee Orchids” which I had hoped he would but I will type it below for you. (It was Mark who first showed me the Bee Orchids on the sand dunes in Tramore – the setting for the poem)

You can read more about Mark and his work at: https://markroperpoet.wordpress.com/ and order a copy of his book at www.dedaluspress.com

Bee Orchids

 

He’d been rowed

across the Rinnashark

to see them one last time

before he died

 

The photo of his hand

cupped round a flower,

a letting go

and a leaving be.

 

So hard to find them

in the kidney vetch,

in the marram grass

and the dead marram grass.

 

I found three, one inside,

two outside the dune.

On that dark evening

I took them as a sign.

 

Making

the strange meanings

you make

when you’re alone.

 

But the orchids –

their motley faces,

bright pink tricorn,

snaily horns.

 

So grave and so silly.

They stared me down.

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To find out more about the Irish Garden Plant Society visit our website or follow us on Facebook

Paddy Tobin