Thursday, December 24, 2009

All is calm, all is bright

And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.
- Rainer Maria Rilke -

I hope you all have a lovely, peaceful Christmas time, however you choose to spend it.
The Intercontinental Gardener.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Quote of the day

Only tame birds have a longing. The wild ones fly.
- Elmer Diktonius -
I loved this Diktonius quote while I grew up in Finland. It seemed to symbolize all my longing for things to come; growing up and entering the world. I wanted to be one of the wild, courageous ones, even if it sometimes was against my true nature. And in a way, I have kept flying. But as the years have gone by, I'm not so sure anymore: what if it takes more courage to stay than to fly away...?
Original quote in Swedish: "Endast tama fåglar har en längtan. De vilda flyger". By Finnish - Swedish poet and author Elmer Diktonius, Min dikt, 1921.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Late November in Sipsalo

The Sipsalo buildings as seen from the South; in front a meadow with old apple trees planted in rows.

It seems difficult for me to write just something small about Pehr Kalm's experimental plantings at Sipsalo, there is so much to tell... but at least I can publish some of the pictures from my visit two weeks ago, even if late November is an unfair time of the year to photograph any gardens in Finland. As I've written about Pehr Kalm earlier, I won't repeat the history... other than as a student of Linnaeus, Kalm travelled widely, first in Sweden, Finland and Russia (1742–1745) and later to North America (1748–1751), visiting Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Niagara Falls, Montreal and Quebec. Of his last trip, Kalm wrote a long a detailed journal called En resa til Nord America.
A small sign noting that Pehr Kalm (in Finnish, Pietari Kalm) had his experimental plantings here.

During his time in North America, Kalm met many interesting personalities, such as John Bartram, now called the Father of American botany (see Bartram's Garden) and Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the U.S. whose inventions, as the Franklin stove, Kalm documented and described in great length. He described the native and immigrant inhabitants and their customs with a keen eye for detail; it is interesting to read his comments from cooking to religious, medical, agricultural and building practices. A new American edition of Kalm's travel journal was published in the 1930's and it still is an important reference to life in colonial North America.
Yard between the house and a barn, a crabapple in the center.

After his travels, Kalm worked in Turku, both with the botanical garden of the Academy and after 1752 with this experimental plantings in Sipsalo, in Hirvensalo near Turku. Here, he cultivated many seeds and plants from his travels to North America, introducing several new genus to Finland, like the now more than common Crataegus grayana, Rubus odoratus and Parthenocissus inserta. He grew several species of crabapples, members of the Malus family, some of which are mentioned in old documents written by Kalm.

Only a few crabapples were still hanging to the branches... this tree was very old, and might be one of the varieties grown from the seed that Kalm brought to Sipsalo; note the unusual, oval form.

Kalm faced many difficulties at his experimental plantings: the soil was quite heavy containing a lot of clay, and despite the South facing exposure, it kept the cold until late in springtime. Periods of severe cold damaged many of the plants he had managed to germinate and grow from the seeds he had collected and imported. Money was always scarce and Kalm worked long days both as a Professor at the Academy and after that at the plantings. K

Caragana arborecens was one of plants Kalm recommended for hedges. Native to Siberia, it survives well the tough climate of Finland.
Kalm died in 1779 and gardeners appointed by the Academy took care of the plantings until 1820's. After the great fire of Turku in 1827 the Academy was moved to Helsinki, and Sipsalo was rented out until the family that still owns the place bought it in 1903. While I visited Sipsalo, a few of the original plants were still alive, and some had self-seeded happily around the area.
Overgrown Salix viminalis plants in the Southern edge of the experimental plantings; these were also on Kalm's lists about plants he grew in Sipsalo.
If Sipsalo will be protected and ends in right hands, there will be many discussions about how to manage this historical and sensitive environment. There are several alternatives of treament of a historical site: restoration portrays accurately the landscape from a period of historical significance; reconstruction seeks to re-create the features of a vanished site in order to depict its appearance during a period of significance; rehabilitation calls for identification and preservation of the "historic character of the property', while adding necessary repairs or alterations so that the property might be used in a new way. In Sipsalo's case, preservation would probably be the right way to go, as it seeks to identify, retain, stabilize and provide continued maintenance of the historic features of a property, while nothing is added and little is taken away. Of course, this is a huge historical and scientific project in itself... and we are still far from any concrete results. But some day, it would be wonderful to be able to stand in Sipsalo and know that this living testament for the botanical, cultural and scientific connections between Finland, Sweden and the U.S. is both cared for and well preserved for the future generations.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sipsalo, again

Visiting Sipsalo with Arno Kasvi. Photo by Jori Liimatainen, Turun Sanomat.

The most difficult things to write about are always the things closest to your heart. So almost for a week, I've been pondering what to write about my visit to Sipsalo, Pehr Kalm's experimental gardens near Turku in Finland. Sipsalo was all that I had expected, a first rate cultural, historical and botanical site that should clearly be protected and saved to the coming generations. I cannot thank enough Arno Kasvi, the retired head gardener of the Botanical Gardens in Turku, for taking me there. Arno is a national celebrity within gardening in Finland and I can understand why; he is like a fireworks of botanical and historical knowledge and ideas, and I truly enjoyed my day of discussions with him. Thank you once more, Arno, for a wonderfully interesting day!
Intentionally, I haven't been writing about Sipsalo on my blog even if it has taken a lot of my time since mid-September. I have contacted experts and professionals both in the US, in Sweden and in Finland, trying to give and get information which would lead to Sipsalo's protection. My parents and especially my architect sister Hanna have been working all their contacts for getting more information and details, and delivering these to persons concerned with saving Sipsalo. There has been a lot of interest for this, and now, there might be (and hopefully I am not all too optimistic) an excellent candidate for buying Sipsalo, a cultural organization that I think would give a safe future for this sensitive, historical environment.
The main newspaper of the South Western Finland, Turun Sanomat, source of the first article about Sipsalo which I included in my previous post, promised to publish an article about Pehr Kalm that I wrote for them. I spent a lot of time researching it, and included comments from some leading Linnean and Kalm experts in the US and in Sweden. Then the story took an unexpected turn: instead of publishing my article, Turun Sanomat took some of my materials and made their own story of them. In addition, they interviewed me while I was visiting Sipsalo with Arno. In the positive side, Sipsalo got a full page of media, and it hopefully was a small step forward in saving Sipsalo to the future generations, but I feel a bit sad for 'losing" my story and ending up on the pages as some kind of a curious, international garden traveller. I am still hoping that my original article will be published as promised, but haven't heard anything from Turun Sanomat for some days now.
For the moment, I am not sure what step to take next, but I strongly feel that I am not quite done with Sipsalo yet. There are so many possibilities to explore. First I have to sort out all my pictures from there, and show at least some of them here on my blog. After that... I don't know. But give me a couple of days, and I'll be back with some beautiful images and hopefully some well chosen words to complement them...
Check out the Turun Sanomat article with Arno Kasvi and me here. I am not a keen media person and 'self promoter', but I just thought that publishing this link had its place here and now as the Sipsalo project is developing further.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tipsy tazettas

Narcissus tazetta, photo by Richard Bloom. My tipsy bulbs still only have tiny green shoots on them...

Paperwhites, Narcissus tazetta, are one of my favourite flowers to force indoors; I love their exotic scent announcing that Christmas is just around the corner. Last year, an unusual way to grow them in a mixture of alcohol (preferably gin) caught my eye somewhere in the cyberspace and this season even more bloggers seem to be spreading the message. With this method, paperwhites should end up roughly a third shorter than usual.
I've never heard about growing anything in alcohol, but as my paperwhites always tend to grow very tall and flop over, I thought this would be an interesting thing to try. The bulbs should be started in water, and only when roots have formed and the green shoots are 3 to 6 centimeters long, the water should be poured off and replaced with a mixture of 1 part alcohol to 7 parts water, if using 40 percent alcohol like ordinary gin. Beer and wine are not suitable, as their sugars can damage plants. Behind this method is the Flower Bulb Research Program at the Cornell University, where a study confirming the results was conducted already in 2005. More detailed instructions can be found on their web pages.
So now five fat and hopefully happy paperwhite bulbs are sitting on a bed of washed gravel imbibing gin and getting ready for the holiday season. And I am following with great curiosity how they respond to their new regime of Tanqueray on the rocks...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Good night to bulbs and moomins

Lily-flowered tulip bulbs ready to be planted into a brown-glazed pot.
Planting bulbs in containers and pots is one of my favorite things to do in the garden. It is almost impossible to fail if you start with a new bag of fresh, juicy bulbs, and they make me feel so rich when I admire their rounded forms within the golden skins: such a concentrated promise of expected beauty. In Saltsjöbaden I used to cover the pots with sheets of moss and leave them outside; they seemed to survive every year despite the cold. Once I even arranged beautiful, glazed ceramic eggs on the top of the moss, which looked wonderful until they were hacked to pieces by crows eager to eat up the contents...
This year, I planted only three pots: one with greenish-white lily flowered tulips, one with white, fragrant Narcissus 'Thalia' and one with Fritillaria meleagris. Nostalgic choices, as I grew all of these in my garden in Saltsjöbaden... but I thought that I could do with some old friends here.

Nothing up yet for a couple of months... but where can I find (or buy) some moss?
Otherwise, instead of getting to bed in late November like bulbs and Moomins do and sleeping soundly until the rays of sun get warmer again, I am getting ready for a trip to Saltsjöbaden and Turku. Despite the cold and dark season, I really look forward to meeting our families and friends, celebrating the opening of the Christmas season in the medieval town of Turku (I can almost smell the gingerbread and mulled wine from here...) and even doing some very interesting garden related research there. I'll be back in early December, hopefully full of new inspiration and with some good photos from the wintery Scandinavia. Until then, have a great Thanksgiving, Första Advent or whatever else you might be celebrating!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Charlie's still retired, happily

Even if it has nothing to do with gardening, I just felt like posting this picture today as it is 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down and Germany was reunited. I happened to land in Berlin on November 9th 1989 to study European Union Law, a 10 day course that I had booked almost a year earlier. From the plane, I watched the masses of people forcing their way from the surrounding East to West Berlin, some pushing their Trabants and bicycles in front of them. It looked like an enormous, circular migration of brown ants, all heading to the same point in the middle. Obviously, EU law lost its importance and we spent the whole week on the streets, experiencing first hand as history was in the making. One of the highlights was to see Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Germany, opened; I took the picture above that evening.
Being in Berlin when the Wall came down was an extremely strong but at the same time very strange experience. I almost felt like a voyeur, being there and seeing all the violent emotions that I as an outsider impossibly could completely share, only imagine. Everybody was talking to complete strangers; a lady in her 60's with dyed hair and make-up running down her cheeks told about a relative who had died while trying to escape to the West. A young Russian soldier with a bleak, tired face and empty eyes kept repeating that just a couple of days before, he wouldn't have hesitated to shoot us standing where we were at the moment. But the feeling of joy was almost overwhelming as we knew that a new period in the history of Europe had begun. We danced with the Russian and East German soldiers and climbed up on the wall with the people at the Brandenburg Gate. I feel lucky to have experienced those days in Berlin, and as I haven 't been back there ever since, I still think of the city crowded with an ocean of people, singing, crying and celebrating the fact that miracles really do happen, every now and then.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sunset Gardens in Menlo Park

A flowing connection between the indoor and outdoor areas.

Sitting here, looking at my garden through the pouring rain, I remembered that I forgot to write about one of the gardens we visited in California last August. The pictures of Sunset Gardens in Menlo Park, some 15 miles South from San Francisco, were just what I needed to feel a bit warmer in this chilly, grey weather. This is a corporate garden and home of the the Sunset Magazine, a lifestyle publication for the West from California to British Columbia. This magazine started actually as a promotional tool in 1898 to spur travellers to visit the West, and the name came from the Sunset Limited, a train that still runs from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The Sunset Magazine is practically unknown to people outside the area (well, at least for us from Europe), but here in the "West" it has a great following with over 6 million readers who are interested about where to travel, what to eat and so on. A bit middle aged, yes, but still quite a nice read... and a good travel guide for these areas. (Am I sounding too promotional? Well, no-one is actually paying me for this.)

From the patio to the garden.

Agave stricta in the Southwest desert garden.
The Sunset Gardens is quite a celebration of the American style of the mid-1900's. The house was designed by Cliff May, who has been called the father of the California ranch-style home. The gardens were designed by Thomas Church, whose achievements within garden design do not need any further presentations, but they were renovated in 2000, so only trees and shrubs remain from the original design. The indoor and outdoor areas merge here effortlessly together and allow a continuous flow of vistas to be enjoyed both from the house and in the garden.

Central Californian parts of the garden.

On the way to the Northwest...

A winding path takes the visitor through the garden and its five different areas designated to the different climate zones of the Western North America. For example, there is an area of desert vegetation suited to arid conditions, another area dedicated to central Californian growing conditions, complete with huge coast redwoods and pines and area with plants suited for the wet and cold winters of the Pacific Northwest. Amazingly, they all seem to thrive here, even if some of them clearly are outside their most preferred growing areas. There is also an editorial test garden for the magazine's photo shoots, cooking articles and other projects; it was a strange experience to see many of the pots and other props from the pages of the Sunset Magazine neatly tucked together in this small area on the backside of the house.

The editorial test garden.

Thriving artichokes in the kitchen garden.

I wanted to visit the Sunset Gardens as my garden guide book advertised it as "one of Church's best preserved gardens". Obviously, this is not completely true any more, but I still found the visit very much worthwhile. A very friendly receptionist took time to show the building to us, and told us about the history (the framed first page from the Sunset Magazine that was published directly after the earth quake of 1906 was especially memorable). I also enjoyed seeing such an pleasant environment for working, as the building still houses the staff of the Sunset Magazine. The gardens are a great testament to American design from the middle of last century, which sadly now are all too often torn down and replaced with something more "up-to-date". Even if not private and on a large scale, these gardens are an inspiration to many builders and designers even today.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pehr Kalm about pumpkins in colonial North America

Excited by the discovery of Pehr Kalm's experimental gardens in Sipsalo, I have been reading his North American travel journal from 1748 to 1751 with great interest and joy. I bought this book as a reprint of the 1770 English edition. As today is Halloween, the greatest pumpkin orgy of the year in North America, I thought it could be interesting to share some of Pehr Kalm's notes on these vegetables. This is what he wrote down in Montreal on September 19th, 1749:
'Pumpkins, of several long, oblong, round, flat or compressed, crook-necked, small, etc. are planted in all the English and French colonies. In Canada they fill the chief part of the farmers' kitchen gardens, though the onions are close second. Each farmer in the English plantations has a large field planted with pumpkins, and the Germans, Swedes, Dutch and other Europeans settled in their colonies plant them. They constitute a considerable part of the Indian food; however, the natives plant more squashes than common pumpkins. They declare that they had the latter long before the Europeans discovered America, which seems to be confirmed by the accounts of the first Europeans that came into these parts.'
'Pumpkins are prepared for eating in various ways. The Indians boil them whole, or roast them in ashes and eat them, or sell them thus prepared in the town; and they have, indeed, a very fine flavor when roasted. The French and English slice them and put the slices before the fire to roast; when they are done they generally put sugar on the pulp. Another way of roasting them is to cut them through the middle, take out all the seeds, put the halves together again and roast them in an oven. When they are quite done, some butter is put in while they are warm, which being imbibed to the pulp renders it very palatable.'
'The Indians, in order to preserve the pumpkins for a very long time, cut them in long slices which they fasten or twist together and dry either in the sun or by the fire in a room. When they are thus dried, they will keep for years, and when boiled they taste very well. Sometimes they do not take the time to boil the pumpkin, but eat it dry with dried beef or other meat; and I own they are eatable in that state, and very welcome to a hungry stomach.'
Have a great Halloween weekend, with or without pumpkins. Maybe it is time to try one of the recipes Kalm noted down?
Pehr Kalm (1716-1779) was a naturalist, explorer, agricultural economist and priest from Finland, who studied with Carl von Linné (Carolus Linnaeus) in Uppsala, Sweden. He traveled in Sweden, Finland, Russia (1742–1745) and later to North America (1748–1751), visiting Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Niagara Falls, Montreal and Quebec. Kalm wrote a journal of his travels to North America, 'En resa til Nord America', which was published already during his lifetime in four different languages.
Picture from Glasgow University Emblem website: a print from 1621 with a gourd climbing up a pine, representing "transitory success".

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Planting in the dripping rain

Colchicum autumnale and C. speciosum album (single and double flowering bulbs).
For couple of days ago, I planted a whole wheelbarrow load of divisions, bulbs and corms. Wandering around my garden with the rain dripping down my nose and neck, I spent hours figuring out the best places for the treasures I had got. And still, I could not feel real joy for what I was doing. The matter is, that my gardening friend and her husband, about whose wonderful place I wrote twice last spring, have sold their large property and are moving away. It is time, she says, and I can see it, but I had hoped that this would not take place quite yet. There will be new development, and nothing will remain of this enchanted place by a little stream in a slope, hidden amongst the Seattle suburbia. The Hardy Plant Society is doing a "garden rescue" on Saturday and saving all they can, potting up as many plants as they can for a charity plant sale next spring. There are thousands of them, hundreds of different genus and species, many of which are very rare.
Here they are, some of the stars of this sad story, before they were transplanted into my garden. Now, after a weeks time of settling in, they still seem a bit surprised, probably missing their old friends and lush surroundings, and of course, the gardener they had gotten used to. I am still looking for the best possible place for the white, double Trillium I got; nothing seems to be good enough for this little gem. Life goes on, as usual. At the same time, it is frustrating to see how little of the work of even the best gardeners can be saved and enjoyed in the long term.
Disporum sessile variegata, three beautiful plants ready for new soil.

Five divisions of Pulmonaria longifolia, which keeps its foliage the whole season, found its place in front of a light pink Camellia sasangua.

Paeonia wittmanniana with two fresh eyes; it is a close relative to P. mlokosewitschii, but the leaves are lighter green and the flowers paler yellow, sometimes almost white.

Fat, juicy bulbs of large, white lilies.
I wrote about the magic flowering carpets in this beautiful garden in March and in May. The pictures, despite taken by an amateur photographer like me, are still heartbreakingly beautiful. I hope the little transplants I got feel themselves at home in my garden, even if it will never be able to match the place they came from.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Quote of the Day

The enjoyment of beauty is dependent on, and in ratio with, the moral excellence of the individual.

- The Crayon, New York's leading art magazine of the 1850's -

Don't you just love the definitive certainty of a connection between moral and beauty in the quote above? At the time when The Crayon wrote this, most writing about art was quite evangelical, full of conviction of that the arts could change the moral dimension of life. In America, the wilderness was seen as a prototype of Nature, the place where the designs of God could be seen in their pure and unedited stage. The vast, wild landscape and nature, that was being discovered during this period especially in the far West, became a symbol for America in art, and lead to numerous paintings depicting the American landscape, often in an idealized form.

The art of landscape gardening followed the same paths of thought. Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-52), one of the most significant voices in the area during 19th century, writes in A Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening from 1841 that "Although music, poetry, and painting, sister fine arts, have in all enlightened countries sooner arrived at perfection than Landscape Gardening, yet the latter offers to the cultivated mind in its more perfect examples, in a considerable degree a union of these sources of enjoyment...". Jackson Downing explains the two 'distinct modes' of landscape gardening art as the 'Ancient, Formal or Geometric Style', with regular forms and right lines, and the 'Modern, Natural or Irregular Style' with varied forms and flowing lines. He goes on to explain how "Every one, thought possessed of the least possible portion of taste, readily appreciates the cost and labour incurred in the first case, and bestows his admiration accordingly; but we must infer the presence of a cultivated and refined mind, to realize and enjoy the more exquisite beauty of natural forms". Which could be translated that the more moral excellence and taste the onlooker has, the more he or she enjoys the purest form of landscape architecture, which according to Jackson Downing is the 'Modern, Natural or Irregular Style'.
Jackson Downing continues to explain the reason for the change of taste (a favourite concept during of the first half of the 18th century) from the Formal to the Natural Style: "The increased admiration of landscape painting, poetry, and other fine arts, by imbuing many minds with a love of beautiful and picturesque nature, also tended to create a change in taste. Gradually, men of refined sensibilities perceived that besides mere beauty of form, natural objects have another and much higher kind of beauty - namely, the beauty of expression." And he ends his essay with the conclusion that "A natural group of trees, an accidental pond of water, or some equally simple object, may form a study more convincing to the mind of a true admirer of natural beauty, than the most carefully drawn plan, or the most elaborately written description". Of course, Jackson Downing's text follows similar developments and writings in Europe. It is interesting, though, that something of the "moral supremacy" of the Informal or 'Natural' style that Jackson Downing's writes about, can still be felt when reading about and visiting gardens of today, especially here in the United States (and I am not talking about sustainability or ecological issues here).

Coming back to the original quote: considering all the money and time we spend on all things of 'beauty' like art, books, films, magazines, most of us should be creatures of a great moral excellence, if that predication would have been true. Sadly, it does not seem to be so.
On the picture: A Tricyrtis hirta, a beautiful member of the lily family from the Himalayas. I grew it in my garden in Melbourne, Australia, and still get a bit nostalgic when I see it. I took this photo in a wonderful, private garden that Daniel Mount showed me for a couple of weeks ago; he has designed parts of the large garden and is the head gardener for it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A book by Mien Ruys, mother of the New Perennial movement

Oenotheras and Echinaceas, in Mien Ruys book Het vaste planten boek.
Mien Ruys is one of the names within garden design that has always caught my interest and admiration. Her gardens have such a refined sense of place and strong form, always combined with sensitive planting schemes and great plant associations. In many of her designs, she used the architectural and sculptural forms of squares, rectangles and circles (which seem to be especially dear for us Scandinavians), and overlaid then her plans with soft and rich plantings, often in bold drifts and well defined blocks. My modernist, Finnish/Scandinavian background (I grew up surrounded by marimekko textiles and Alvar Aalto furniture...) probably is the reason why her designs are extremely attractive to my eyes; I love their clean lines combined with a sensitivity for the place and an appreciation for the nature. It is one of my big regrets within my garden travelling life that I never made it to her famous garden in Holland, Tuinen Mien Ruys, at Moerheim in Dedemsvaart, despite visiting the country several times as my sister lived there for a couple of years.

A garden plan and a planting plan by Mien Ruys.

Then, you can imagine my joy when I found an unused copy of Mien Ruys (together with her siblings J.D. and Th. Ruys) book Het vaste planten boek, in Swedish called Våra vackra perenner, in the Salvation Army's thrift shop in Stockholm (that I've written about earlier as one of my favorite haunts for wonderful, old garden books). It was written in 1950 in the Netherlands, and translated into Swedish in 1954. In it, Mien Ruys draws from her extensive experience with gardens and plants and gives advice on plant selection for different garden situations. Mien Ruys started to design gardens when she was 19 in 1923, and died in 1999 at the age of 94. In 1955 she founded the magazine Onze Eigen Tuin (Our Own Garden), and wrote a couple of books, but most of her writings were only published in the Netherlands and never translated to English.

A picture of the garden shown in the drawings above.

It is wonderful to read this book as it has a great selection of perennials for different kinds of gardens: city gardens, country gardens and even roof and container gardens, something that feels completely up to date today, when compact gardening is discussed in most gardening magazines. Perennials are chosen and grouped by growing conditions, colours and blooming times. Also, there is an interesting chapter about plants that can be naturalized, with instructions about best plants for different situations: woodland, meadow, or boggy gardens. This feels very modern, and would be instructional for many gardeners of today. It is interesting to look at the plant lists; several varieties of grasses, Eupatoriums, Verbenas, Salvias, Echinaceas, Thalictrums, Persicarias, Solidagos... many of which are familiar from the plantings made by designers of the New Perennial Movement in the 90's and continue to be very popular. This shows clearly how skillful Mien and her siblings were in their plant selections.

Mien thought that poppies were perfect for naturalizing in meadow gardens. This photo is so beautiful and sensitive, a real little piece of art.

Considering all above, it is not surprising that Piet Oudolf mentions Mien as his first influence in his popular book Designing with Plants (from 1999). He writes that "She was everywhere, the only garden designer in Holland who was talking about plants and plantings, the others just talked about design." Andrew Wilson writes in his excellent book Influential Gardeners, The Designers who Shaped the 20th Century Garden Style (from 2002) that Ruys has been inspirational by at least Anthony Paul, Piet Oudolf and James van Sweden. So I don't think it is an overstatement to say that Mien was the mother of the New Perennial Movement, an excellent designer and plantswoman whose work continues to be influential and important even today.
More pictures about Mien Ruys gardens here; and look at excellent photos also on

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bloedel Reserve revisited

The Reflection Pool, like a mirrow showing the surrounding forest and a changing sky above.

I've been enjoying house guests from Sweden for the last two weeks, thereof the silence on my blog. Seattle showed its best side during these last, warm days of summer. We even managed to spend a day on the beach, swimming and eating our dinner under a glowing sunset over lake Washington.

Eager to share my favourites here, I managed to drag my friend to some of the treasures of the Pacific Northwest. A trip to Bloedel Reserve (see my previous post here with more details), had a top priority on my list. There is something very special about this graceful garden, opening amongst the lush, wild nature of Bainbridge Island. This was my third visit within six months, and I never grow tired of wandering through its winding paths, enjoying its calm spirit. Only a true appreciation and love for nature can produce such a dignified combination of garden design and wilderness as can be experienced at the Bloedel Reserve.

I took some new pictures, in another weather and another season. As somebody said, a garden is never the same; the light is never the same, the clouds are never the same, and the plants are always changing. Just like we and life itself...

A path through the meadow cleans the senses before wandering further into the forest and garden. The Robinia pseudoacacia 'Friesia' acts like a exlamation mark against the dark forest.

After the dark forest, a man made pond reflects the sky and the well-tended gardens around the house.

The view behind the house (that can be seen from the inside too, but photography is not allowed there).

A closer look at the grass bank against the sea...

The Japanese guest house, with a beautifully raked gravel garden.

Cornus kousa, Korean dogwood, full of red, warty-looking fruit.

The moss garden, thankful for some rain after a long, hot summer.

Beautiful, evergreen deer ferns (Blechnum spicant) in the moss garden.

The Bloedel Reserve is on Bainbridge Island Washington, and it is blessed by the mild, moist climate of Puget Sound. About 84 acres are second growth forest, and the remainder are altered landscapes, including various gardens, ponds and meadows. The Reserve was once the home of the Bloedel Family, which is primarily responsible for its growth and development. The vision of the Bloedels is now interpreted and extended by the Arbor Fund.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dan Hinkley's garden at Windcliff

The gardens and view to the sea at Windcliff.
Saturday, September 5th, was a day for a special treat; the Northwest Horticultural Society arranged a tour to Daniel Hinkley's garden, which is located at Windcliff in Indianola, a short ferry ride out from Edmonds near Seattle. The tour had booked out very early, but due to a cancellation, I luckily got in at the last minute.
Garden pond surrounded by lush plantings.
Rosa mutabilis in full bloom.
Daniel Hinkley is one of the great living persons within botany and horticulture not only here in North America but also internationally (he was actually the first person within gardening that I knew from this area, mainly through articles by him and about him in Gardens Illustrated). He is a modern day plant explorer, vivid writer, interesting lecturer, talented plant breeder and nurseryman. Heronswood, his legendary nursery devoted to rare plants in Kingston near Seattle was a mecca for gardeners (it is now sold further). Reading his biography can make anyone short of breath; such accomplishments can only been made by a person with inexhaustible energy and commitment, and of course, deep love to one's cause, which in his case is plants of all kind.

A beautifully crafted fire pit and a detail of the stonework.

Windcliff was planted by Daniel and his partner Robert Jones mainly after 2005, and it is amazing to see how it has matured only in four years. Robert, who is a former architect, mentioned that they had no special plan for the garden, but it had evolved through an intuitive process of planting what felt right for the place. Of course, Daniel being no ordinary gardener, the results are just stunning. The site has a breathtaking view towards Mount Rainier and Seattle city skyline and the garden lingers towards the sea through organic mounds of plantings and small intimate paths where you can touch the plants and they can happily answer your greetings.

Plantings around the house.
Windcliff is, naturally, a plantsman's garden with many rarities and specialities, but there is none of the often cluttered effect connected with many of those gardens. The overall feeling of this completely contemporary garden is so exquisite and harmonious that it makes you admire the aesthetic talent that was needed to create it. Many skillfully made details, art and handicraft, witness also about Daniel's and Robert's love for all things good and beautiful in life.

Daniel (in brown t-shirt) talking with the visiting garden people.
It was lovely to see Daniel answering all questions with a friendly smile and a great interest and letting us to his garden despite the obvious risks of almost 100 persons wandering through this private haven. I felt like I didn't only get to see a gorgeous garden, but also got a glimpse of a person who has lived his life well, true to his passion and calling, concentrating his powers on the things he loves, and who is ready to share the results with those who are interested. "Rather than obscurity, rarity, or breathtaking beauty, the quality that I find most appealing in a plant is possession of a unique character", said Daniel in his book The Explorer's Garden (1999). At Windcliff, Daniel and Robert have definitely succeeded in creating a garden with rarely seen, breathtaking beauty and a unique character.
Roy Lancaster and his wife Sue were also at Windcliff during this tour, and I had a chance to have a wonderful chat with this world renowned plantsman and author about the plants in northern Scandinavia and Nordkap, that Roy had visited some years ago. Roy is giving the Elisabeth Carey Miller annual memorial lecture in Seattle next week (09/17/09), speaking on "Mad About Plants--A Plantsman's Garden". Don't miss this fantastic possibility to get to listen to this legendary plantsman if you are near Seattle.