Garden Inspiration: Arne Maynard


RENOWNED BRITISH GARDEN DESIGNER ARNE MAYNARD started his 2-hour talk Saturday morning at Marder’s Nursery in Bridgehampton, which I attended in hopes of picking up a few tips for my own Long Island half-acre, by saying that gardens must have a sense of place — that “a garden needs to belong to its setting, environment, architecture, history.” That’s accomplished primarily by using elements of the natural landscape, in order that a garden not look “like it could be anywhere.”

Top: Haddon Hall in Darbyshire





Of course, Maynard’s sense of history is a lot longer than mine. His favorite period is the 1400s-1700s; his favorite architectural style is Elizabethan. His work often surrounds 500-year-old manor houses owned either by the National Trust or celebrities like James Dyson of vacuum cleaner fame and Tricia Guild, the interior and textile designer (that’s her Oxfordshire home, Appleton Manor, built in 1174 with additions as recently as the 1920s in the four photos above). So it was surprising that, in fact, I did come away from the lecture with — if not ‘tips’ — a great deal of inspiration, and even some consolation.


Maynard is charming and down-to-earth, describing one property in its ‘before’ stage, with a bright green lawn and red roses, as looking like “a biscuit tin,” and admitting that when he first saw a modern sculpture he was expected to incorporate into his design, his reaction was “What on earth am I going to do with that?” (It turned out to be a beautiful addition to a lavender-filled gravel courtyard, third photo from top.)

Arne Maynard Series - The Mill House (15th June 2010)


Maynard loves “shadows of the past on the landscape,” leaving in place such things as agricultural furrows that have been worn into the earth. He creates walkways by “watching where people walk” and isn’t above the quick fix, like planting lavender in places where existing concrete is broken, instead of repairing the concrete. He’s a proponent of the undulating yew or box hedge, sculpted with chainsaws (they look like hell at first, he says), and believes that even architectural mismatches like the ornate iron gates installed by the previous owner of an old stone water mill “are part of its history now.” (That made me feel better about the French doors on my modernist house.)

Arne Maynard Series - The Mill House (15th June 2010)

He “spent two years taking out the wrong things” at one job site before planting anything at all, and admits he “created a monster” of high-maintenance borders and knot gardens at his own first home in Lincolnshire. His current residence, in Wales, below, is much simpler, though he did plant a few narcissi (60,000) and snowdrops (40,000) to make the garden “feel it’s been there forever.”


Toward the end of Maynard’s presentation, he showed renderings for the project that brought him here: a brand new oceanfront mansion, currently under construction. It couldn’t be more different from his steeped-in-history UK projects, and made me wonder if it was the novelty or the payday that drew him to the East End of Long Island (which he’d never visited before and which he was pleasantly surprised to discover was “not all delicatessens”). The house is humongous and ersatz, and I hope Maynard’s plantings of beech, boxwood cloud hedging, fruit trees, cultivated native grasses, bayberries and sea lavender will be dense, and that they, along with the creeping thyme in the crushed-shell paths, provide a much-needed, though artificially imposed, sense of place.


The Outsider: Beauty and Bounty in Park Slope

LURKING ATOP a rooftop in Park Slope, unseen from the street, are 1,500 square feet of edible and ornamental plants — including many which are both — arrayed in zig-zag formation by Brooklyn-based garden designer Cynthia Gillis. It’s an impressive garden, written up today in my weekly garden column, The Outsider, for Go here to read more and see lots of photos.

The Outsider: Country Feel in Greenpoint

I SO RELATE to this one. Hands-on, low-budget, romantic concept. Not a “checkbook garden,” by any means. It’s the work of Alexandra Abuza, a young garden and floral designer based in Brooklyn, and it’s the subject of my column today on Brownstoner. Go here to read the whole thing.

Dean Riddle’s Japan


I VISITED JAPAN LAST SUNDAY, through the eyes of Dean Riddle. A garden designer based in upstate New York, Dean spoke at Madoo Conservancy here in Sagaponack about his trip last fall to Kyoto (that’s Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion, top and below) and Tokyo.

Though the highly controlled and obsessively manicured Japanese gardens, some centuries old, couldn’t be more different from Dean’s own exuberant, ever-changing gardens here in the Northeast, they share the same essential purpose: to showcase the beauty of nature. Dean mentioned tearing up more than once at gardens as uplifting as a symphony or great work of art.


Beyond the pristine plantings, Dean showed pictures of the stone block paths he loves for their “homemade feeling” and dry gardens of stone — the most famous being the Zen rock garden of Ryoan-ji, below, with rocks still in place where they were positioned 500 years ago. Considered by some the greatest masterpiece of Japanese culture, there are 15 stones at Ryoan-ji, though you can never see more than 14 from any vantage point.


As Dean presented his photos, carefully shot to avoid crowds of people, he pointed out elements of traditional Japanese garden design, like the use of borrowed scenery to make designed gardens “look like they melt into the mountainside,” and the extensive use of moss — almost exclusively at the otherworldly Siaho-ji, below, where 150 species of lovingly groomed, emerald-green moss long ago took over two acres.


At the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, a fallen cherry tree, instead of being chopped up and hauled away, was protected with mounded soil, surrounded by a small fence, and allowed to remain, where it put out new branches from the fallen trunk, and is revered.

“Everything is so highly aestheticized,” Dean says. “Sometimes I feel I was born in the wrong country.”

Please Please Me, Perennials


ON SUNDAY, I WENT TO HEAR THE IRREPRESSIBLE GARDEN DESIGNER/WRITER DEAN RIDDLE speak at Madoo Conservancy in Sagaponack. I’ve been a fan of Dean’s since his ‘Dean’s Dirt’ column in Elle Decor some years ago. His 2002 book, Out in the Garden, about his creation of an exuberant planting scheme (and life, in the process) at his rented bungalow in the Catskills, has been on my night table since I moved here.

I’m writing about a glorious garden Dean designed near Woodstock, N.Y., above, for the July/August issue of Garden Design magazine. After his slide show, which ranged over several gardens he’d designed upstate and his recent trip to Japan, my head was swimming with visions of billowing perennials.

Dean’s a guy after my own heart: resourceful, down-to-earth, and budget-conscious. He’s encouraging and enthusiastic; he makes you feel you can do it. One of his trademarks is the extensive use of self-sowing plants like verbena bonariensis and echinacea, whose random appearances over time, he says, “weave everything together.” I also love his use of boxwood as a “rhythmic evergreen presence” (the boxwood ball at my front door has cheered me all winter long).

Dean began his talk with a “Garden in Four Days,” a 4-square plot he’d created for an upstate client who wanted to pretty things up in a hurry. Birch logs were used to edge the beds and Dean created a ‘cobblestone carpet’ (another of his signatures) with stones salvaged from a nearby stream. They planted 175 one-gallon perennials all at once — approximately 35 each of just 5 different plants.


So naturally, when I visited Spielberg’s nursery in East Hampton on Monday for some composted manure to improve my still lacking-in-nutrients soil, and went out back “just to see what they had,” I couldn’t resist buying a bunch of last year’s leftover perennials at 50% off. I came away with 23 plants for my ‘curb appeal’ beds, above, on either side of the gravel walkway from my new parking court to the front door (with the 10 bags of compost, it all came to under $200).

The plants don’t look like much to an untrained eye – just brown sticks with a few baby green leaves among them. But I know from experience what they’ll look like – if not this year, then next, and bought pretty much all they had of mostly shade-tolerant, deer-resistant stuff:

– 5 blue-violet ‘May Night’ Salvia (Dean mentioned it, so I grabbed, and will put it in my sunniest spot)
– 5 Bronze Sedge, a reddish-brown foot-tall grass said to work in part-sun
– 5 Alchemilla Mollis ‘Auslese,’ chartreuse ladies mantle, one of my all-time favorite edging plants
– 3 Digitalis (foxgloves) of two different types, on the theory that if one surprised me by blooming in the woods last spring, they like it here
– 3 Ligularia ‘Osiris Cafe Noir,’ 20″ tall, dark-leaved, good for shade
– 2 Aquilegia (columbine) in ‘origami yellow,’ which I know self-seeds abundantly, works in shade, and is difficult to transplant (so even though I can take columbines from upstate when I go there next month, I figured I needed the insurance of already potted specimens)


Now, of course, I have to put them all in. Started last night by dumping my 10 bags of compost and placing the plants more or less where I think they’ll flourish. Then I picked up my pointed shovel and found, once more, that my so-called soil is compacted and rockier than imagined. I didn’t get far before nightfall, and it’s raining hard today.

So I get a temporary reprieve from digging. But at least my dreams of perennial borders are underway.

Now, this shade-challenged area, below, is crying out for some foundation plantings:


And here’s a barren spot, below, if ever there was one. The Roses of Sharon, which I “hard pruned” recently – just as the books say – is an unattractive bunch of sticks, and I believe it’s late to leaf out. Any suggestions as to what I can do in these areas? They’d be most welcome.