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.