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SEEMS TO ME THE FALL COLORS — peaking late after an unseasonably warm October — are more brilliant than usual this year. Here in Brownstone Brooklyn, there’s no sense one needs to go up to Vermont or the Hudson Valley to be fully satisfied on that score. Above, Underhill Avenue in Prospect Heights. Below, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden — my favorite urban refuge –in its autumnal glory.
ONE EVENING LAST WEEK, I attended the first-ever public lecture at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s new Visitor Center — a helix-shaped, mostly glass structure with a planted roof that I had been prepared to dislike for its modernity, but have actually found welcoming. The talk was given by Glyn Jones, head gardener at England’s famed Hidcote Manor in the Cotswolds, a 10-acre Arts & Crafts-era garden with all the classic English-gardening tropes: blowsy borders, ancient hornbeam hedges, bird-shaped topiary, a white garden, everything off the all-important “central axis.”
Can you tell from my tone that I’m slightly disenchanted with the classic English garden, having steeped myself in Japanese-gardening books all winter? It’s also a result of my trying valiantly and never succeeding to emulate those colorful flower borders in my own sun- and deer-challenged gardens. Yes, there’s an element of sour grapes here. My tulips have always been eaten, either by deer or squirrels, while Hidcote has 18,000 of them, freshly planted each year in varying color schemes. But I did enjoy Mr. Jones’ gossipy talk, and the experience of sitting with a like-minded roomful of people who love gardens.
Hidcote was one of the first properties to become part of England’s National Trust in 1948, though Jones had little good to say about the National Trust. He thinks Hidcote should cut loose, save the annual dues, and publish its own guidebook and website (it can’t be worse than the National Trust’s Hidcote page, which inexplicably has no photos).
Once weedy and overgrown, Hidcote is now restored to perfection, with 12 full-time gardeners and close to 200,000 visitors a year. It was purchased in 1907 by a Mrs. Winthrop, an American born in — of all places — Brooklyn! She was a theater buff who bought the property because of its location 10 miles from Stratford-on-Avon. Her son, Lawrence, went on to develop the gardens, going on ‘botanizing expeditions’ in the 1930s to China, Burma, and South Africa, and bringing back hundreds of hitherto-unseen (in the Western world) species.
Always anxious to cull tips and ideas for my own gardening efforts, I listened attentively for such pronouncements as “We hate bare soil at Hidcote” (for aesthetic reasons and also because abundant perennial plantings suppress weeds). “We hate corners. Fill them up with pots.” I’m for that. “Soften hard architectural lines with a ‘jungly style’ of planting.” By mid-summer, abundant perennials obscure the edges of Hidcote’s grass and gravel paths, though I wouldn’t exactly calll Hidcote’s plantings ‘jungly.’
I perked up when Jones described Hidcote’s “natural or wilderness areas with a different style of planting,” including astilbes, ferns, skunk cabbage, irises, rogersia, and candelabra primulas — things that thrive in shade and damp. I can see those things working at my new property on Long Island (closing three weeks from today!)
Unfortunately, I don’t think Jones’s photos did full justice to the place and, as I mentioned, the National Trust is no help. The illustrations in this post are from UGArderner’s Flickr photostream. Thank you for sharing, UGA.
A LOT OF PEOPLE (myself included) give up, somewhat, on window boxes and outdoor containers by the time November rolls around. Others keep going… like the owners of the swell Manhattan townhouse, above, who’ve created an arresting display with gourds and berries.
My go-to place for inspiration in all seasons, including fall and winter, is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, above (that’s a side view of the Brooklyn Museum as seen from inside the garden), where crews were busy on Sunday repairing Sandy damage. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have been too extensive there.
Some go all out in autumn with mums. Usually that’s not particularly interesting, but I like the front yard planting, above, where the lavender mums are interspersed symmetrically with juniper, a yellow grass, and a deep purple leafed thing whose name is not springing to mind.
Sweet potato and coleus hang in through Thanksgiving, at least, the chartreuse of the always-satisfying sweet potato vine a vivid contrast against the brownstone.
A red annual grass is flourishing now in the concrete window boxes of a fine house on St. Marks Avenue in Prospect Heights. Is there anything being built today that matches the elegance of that hefty iron stoop railing and brownstone window ledges? No, there’s not!
SPECIFICALLY, IT’S THE Brooklyn Botanic Garden I’m talking about, not the whole borough in all its varied and often-gritty aspects.
I was at the BBG last night with my daughter for ‘August Garden Cocktail Night,’ a members-only event. It rained all day, and until the last minute it seemed the evening might be a washout.
But it came off, and I’m so glad we made the effort to go. The world was washed clean, and what a world. The evening renewed my appreciation for the 97-year-old Japanese Hill and Pond Garden and the Lily Pool Terrace, especially.
And I <duh> did not have a proper camera with me. These were taken with an iPhone 4S, which will do in a pinch.
IT’S COOL, IT’S WET, IT’S FALL, as of this morning at 5:05AM — and it’s prime time for planting and moving things around. Now’s our big chance to improve on the design of beds and borders, without stressing plants in excessive heat. I’m out at my cottage in Springs (East Hampton, Long Island, N.Y.), doing just that. I’m a bit disappointed in the lack of color in my main perennial beds, but the lespedeza (bush clover), above, is trying to make up for that. Planted last year around this time, it’s a perennial that gets cut back to the ground each year, like butterfly bush. It was very late to come up in spring, and I was sure it was dead, and that I had killed it. But then it began to grow…and grow… four feet across in a single season, and it’s been in luxuriant purple bloom for the last two weeks.
I moved the hakonechloa at the top of the photo above from another part of the garden to balance the group at right, which greets me at my front steps and always looks terrific.
The boxwoods I bought for screening my next door neighbor’s driveway, above, are settled in nicely, and I consider their staggered placement an aesthetic success. Maybe I’ll even remove the red nursery tapes someday;-)
Above, three types of ornamental grass brought from upstate: fountain grass, pampas grass, and switch grass, eventually to range from 2 to 5 feet tall. Inspired by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Monocot Border, I decided to group them all together in a relatively sunny area of the yard that was bare but mulched and ready to go.
The idea is that this all-grass garden be visible from the blue chaises on my back deck, above, where I frequently perch to survey my domain.
This is the view from the deck, with the grasses arrayed and ready to go. To the left of the contorted pine in the foreground are three old, never-blooming azaleas. I’m planning to move them to another part of the yard and redouble my efforts to protect their flower buds from deer. That will have the dual effect of silhouetting the specimen tree (which was there when I bought the house and with which I have a love-hate relationship) and opening up the view of the new grass bed from the house and deck.
Above, 27 pots of grasses laid out with the taller ones to the rear and back, and the shorter, 18-24″ mounding fountain grass in front.
Above, they’re in and being watered. Yes, it was a big job, fortunately accomplished yesterday before the rains came. In the foreground, another frontier — the free-form island bed being colonized by ajuga (bugleweed), which I plan to replace or supplement with liriope (lilyturf), after a bed I saw somewhere that looked spectacular. I’m on the hunt now for discounted liriope, and I’d better act quickly, because the perennial planting window closes in less than a month.