Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This weekend I traveled to Little Compton, Rhode Island for the Sakonnet Garden Symposium, titled Lofty Aspirations for Down to Earth Gardeners.  The day started off with a talk given by Marco Polo Stufano, a renown plants man and gardener who started Wave Hill in the Bronx. He showed us examples (actual slides!) of numerous great gardens in the states and in England of terrific planting combinations and designs. Throughout the entire day, there was huge emphasis on shape, form, and texture taking precedent over color and bloom- and encouraging us to think about plants from an architectural view. Stufano talked about 'the hand of man' being important in controlling plants and their forms and then juxtaposing this with the "fluffiness" of more herbaceous plants.

John Gwynne and Mikel Folcarelli followed with a talk about the evolution of their own garden, called Sakonnet. It was a wonderful presentation, where each spoke about various aspects of the design, process, and their own personal strengths and sensibilities as gardeners.  They talked about the tension between using plants as vehicles for design and also allowing plants to remain where they thrive. The garden is actually rather small, but so intricately planted and planned that when you are meandering through it you find yourself seeing the same garden from a completely different view. They called this the "experience of being lost and then of being found" which I completely loved.

The last speaker was Fergus Garrett, the head gardener at Great Dixter in Sussex England, who is one of the most enthusiastic and dynamic gardeners out there. He spoke about the gardens at Great Dixter, which was incredibly exciting for me because I am heading there in March to volunteer for the month. He spoke about how gardening is an aesthetic and organic process; that it is about being creative as well as a nurturing. He talked about the fun, freedom, and self- expression that is a huge part of gardening, but that there is also an aspect of professionalism in striving to grow these plants to be their very best. The most inspiring thing I took away from his talk was his belief that change is good and necessary- once you get it right, you move on and try something completely different! This makes many people very uncomfortable, but it leaves so much room for learning, progress, and growing as a gardener.

The last three hours of the day were spent in John and Mikel's garden where I took many photographs and explored their rich and varied plantings. There was also a specialty plant sale from Opus Nursery and Broken Arrow Nursery. It was an incredible day!

A view of the cetral axis, looking into the yellow garden. When I read about the yellow garden I assumed all the flowers would be yellow. In fact, there was hardly a bloom in the entire garden! Instead the garden was comprised of plants with yellow- chartreuse foliage and it was lovely! Here it looks stunning in the low afternoon light.


An example of having fun. Mikel made tubes of chicken wire and let the Euonymus grow over the tube creating these incredible arching arms of greenery!

Light was another element discussed during the day, how plants catch the light and how it changes throughout the day and throughout the seasons. The blue flower in the corner is Meconopsis x Lingholm and it was the first one I had actually ever seen. It was a plant much discussed at Hidcote and as New Englanders, we all want to grow it! Here is sits happily on a protected stream side.

 Ahhh... The Blue Garden.  This garden was truly the show stopper of the day in terms of bloom and seeing it at peak time! Every plant was perfect and glorious. The tall white puff in the back is the incredible Crambe cordifolia, which I grew to love when I was introduced to it gardening in the Pacific Northwest. Other plants included Eryngium, white Digitalis, Geranium, Anchusa, thistle, Hosta, Platycodon, Allium, grasses, and delphinium.

Onopordum acanthium

I think this is the name of the above thistle, which I saw two days before at Morning Star Nursery in Rockingham, Vermont. It was so exciting to see it in all its glory at Sakonnet.

An example of the "Hand of Man" at work. A maple tree pruned into a vertical pillar.


There was a very engaging discussion of meadows and the various issues surrounding the management plans and practices, both here in New England and at Great Dixter. Here is a picture of the meadows surrounding Sakonnet.