Saturday, September 11, 2010

Book report

The Collector's Garden: Designing with Extraordinary Plants by Ken Druse.

A look at the various kinds of plant collectors: aesthetes, specialists, missionaries and hunters, as he styles them. An overview of the gardens and gardeners is accompanied by gorgeous photos, including many close-ups of plants as well as the sweeps and drifts. The gardens are as extraordinary as the obsessed gardeners. I was particularly struck by three of them.

Lauren Springer (later Ogden) designed a garden in Denver that takes into account the severe weather and lack of rain. (Don't fight the site.) The resulting prairie/mountain garden has lots of plants that would work well in drought-ridden Virginia, I think. I loved the way she filled up every inch of her front yard with mostly low-growing plants.

Nancy Goodwin moved to Hillsborough, North Carolina, carefully selected as a good gardening location despite the heat and drought of the area. The photos here show a lush yet dry blue garden, and sweeps of orange, yellow and chartreuse set off by black sweet potato vine used as a groundcover. I love her saying that she'll kill a plant three times before giving up on it - moving it until it finds the right spot or she just moves on.

Wave Hill in the Bronx is one of the great North American gardens (not that I've seen it - yet). The emphasis, at least in this book, is on the late summer-early autumn garden, where leaf shape is just as important as color. This appeals to me because summer can be so hellacious here that you don't want to set foot in the garden. The onset of cooler weather, as we're having today, makes hope spring up again. And, of course, the autumnal plants like asters, grasses, salvias, sedums are beautiful in themselves.

So, taking an idea from Wave Hill, I'm now thinking of designing the new sun bed for September to November interest as well as spring. The plan is slowly emerging...

The book was published in 1996, and after only fourteen years many of the gardens and gardeners have changed or moved on (Heronswood being the prime example), reminding me how transient gardening really is. But there is still a lot here to discover and explore. Cyclamens, anyone??

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