Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A sophisticated choice

"I think that a planting near the house or round the terrace should be bold and, for want of a better word, sophisticated: so I usually exclude plants which really require a wilder setting such as heaths and brooms and, indeed all kinds of rock plants. For the same reason shrubs and trees should have character in their form, their foliage or their flower to gain a place where they will be seen all through the year. Magnolias, for instance, always look right. I do not know a variety which is not distinguished-looking at any time."

- Russel Page, The Education of a Gardener, 1962 -

The Education of a Gardener in one of my most loved gardening books. I found my copy, a second edition from 1983, at the Avenue Book Store in Albert Park in 1999, and it has been on my bedside table since then. Russel Page's language is like the magnolias, always elegant and distinguished. Page constantly emphasizes that simple unity, aptness and mood of relaxation should be a gardener's aims, and where possible, gardens should take their cue from the surrounding context and landscape. He's reflections on garden design, plants and the surrounding landscape are born from several decades of thinking and working with gardens, and at the same time they are fresh and modern. Every now and then I pick up my dog-eared copy and read a couple of pages randomly, always feeling like I hear his voice through the pages.
The magnolias are starting to flower here in Seattle. A bit late, but the cold winter seems not to have damaged the flowers. First out are Magnolia kobus and M. stellata, two of the hardiest varieties, which I think are in their wild simplicity some of the most beautiful magnolias. I am longing for a garden in which to plant these beauties and hopefully be staying long enough to enjoy the results.


Safi Crafts said...

We hope that you stay long enough to see your magnolias bloom too!
I have been craving one of those pale yellow ones. Very sophisticated.

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Oh Jean, when can we get to see a new painting on your pages? Or maybe live some day? I love magnolias, and the difficult part will be choosing one from all the beautiful possibilities...

nilla|utanpunkt said...

His point that the plants near the house and terrace should bold, really surprised me. Have to muse on that one...

Carol said...

I love the weeping cherry and M. stellata too... and I agree it is a most sophisticated choice... a lovely gift of peace from Japan I believe. I have the dwarf variety and have forced a branch I needed to prune from the tree. So delightful to see your photos! I have been reading your essays and visited your garden in Sweden... what a beautiful garden it is and again I agree wholeheartedly that large trees create a dialogue within a garden and are so important in the landscape.
Your writing is simply beautiful and inspiring. I look forward to visiting again and again.

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Camellia, I too think "bold" awakens thoughts.... But he wrote this in 1962 and was part of the upper spheres of the society, so his language has to be translated accordingly. When I have read his book, I have always translated bold to "confident", as his planting schemes really do express this. No fussy plantings, everything should be clean and "bold", with hard-working plants that give value the year around.

Carol, thank you for your words; your place seems like a dream to me; my garden in Sweden is very beautiful too and I do miss it a lot, even if I like the experience of living in Washington. I just hope I get to live somewhere long enough to see the results of my work, some day!

Karen said...

I have always wanted a Magnolia stellata, maybe right now is the time to go see one in bloom and snap it up! I also wish I had room to plant one of the larger varieties but just enjoy my neighbors' instead. I had an evergreen 'Little Gem' in my old garden, I was very sad to leave it behind. I hope you get some real gardening space soon, it must be driving you so crazy to not be able to dig in the dirt at this time of year!

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