Tuesday, January 26, 2016


In September my good gardening friend, Emma, and I visited Innisfree garden in Millbrook, New York. The weather was perfect and the garden was quiet. Built around a lake, a lovely path winds along the shore where you encounter beautiful scenes, perfectly laid out, wild in feeling, but manicured and exact. The garden was designed and built by a couple, Walter Beck and Marion Burk Beck. Walter was inspired by Japanese and Chinese art and aesthetic, in particular an 8th century Chinese artist, poet, and gardener named Wang Wei. He championed ideas about thoughtfully designed garden vignettes within a larger landscape. Walter Beck called this concept 'cup gardens.' In 1938 the couple teamed up with Lester Collins, a budding landscape architect at Harvard, who worked with the Becks to connect the series of smaller garden compositions into the larger landscape.

"Western gardens are usually designed to embrace a view of the whole. Little is hidden. The garden, like a stage set, is there in its entirety, its overall design revealed in a glance. The traditional Chinese garden is usually designed so that a view of the whole is impossible. [It] requires a stroll over serpentine, seemingly aimless arteries. The observer walks into a series of episodes, like Alice through the looking glass."
Lester Collins, Innisfree: An American Garden (1994)

One side of the garden felt like a beautifully maintained trail or park, and that was where we started, and then we began to come across these "three dimensional pictures," of intentional scenes. The further we went, the more ornate the scenes became, with more structure, stone work and more cultivated plantings.

A stand of Lotus nucifera along the shore. This felt down-right exotic to me!

There was lots of stone work and little scenes tucked into hillsides.

Along with ancient Chinese thoughts and practices, the garden also embodied Modernist ideas. This geometric stone pillar sat in the middle of a wide lawn, continually spraying water.  In the spirit of wandering through a landscape Alice-in-Wonderland-style and encountering "episodes," coming across this fountain fit the bill.

There was never a house built on the site, but there was lots of stone work, patios and terraces giving the garden a feeling of having been lived in. I think foundation gardens, whether real or imagined, are always interesting; it illustrates the juxtaposition between man and nature (and in someways house and garden), the garden will always win in the end!

To read more about Innisfree or to plan a visit, check out their website here!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Bill Noble's Garden

I was lucky enough to visit Bill Noble's Garden in Norwich, Vermont this past October. I was accompanying Claire Takacs, an exceptional garden photographer, on a shoot and while she diligently photographed the garden I got to walk around the garden with Bill Noble and talk about plants and garden design. It was a cold October day, with spitting snow and a punchy cold wind, but then the clouds would blow open and let in rays of spectacular fall light, illuminating the garden.  The garden is great: it is beautifully designed, incredibly varied from garden area to garden area, and chock full of interesting plants. I love this particular shot above with the upright Thuja occidentalis 'DeGroot's Spire' against the pollarded poplars (Populus nigra var. 'Thevestina') waving around in the wind.

The main perennial beds are laid out in quadrants with long, straight axial paths. The plantings were composed of large competitive perennial groups, asters, phlox, joe pye, iris, and sedum, with some anchoring shrubs. This time of year the colors were rich maroons, purple, earthy pinks, and lush greens. There were flashes of white from the phlox and the bleached out Deschampsia cespitosa, as seen here in the foreground.

I hadn't seen this plant before Leucosceptrum stellipilum and it was very stately that cold October day. Any plant just coming into its own late in the fall is always celebrated. This unusual plant came from Ed Bowen at Opus Plants who is a great plantsman growing and selling amazing plants.

The 'Silver and Gold' garden, named after the Cornus, creates an interesting mosaic of foliage colors and textures.

This part of the garden is like an old foundation garden and it is built on the site of an old stable. There is a long evergreen hedge on the left and an old stone wall on the right, giving it a feeling of having walls around it. The plantings are fairly horizontal, and planted in large groups, and it gives the space tapestry of mostly evergreen interweaving foliage.

In this area of the garden, Bill Noble has a nice collection of small, alpine plants and unusual specimens built atop an old milking parlor. Including this rare find, Serratula seoanei, whose name was forgotten until Ed Bowen chimed in (thank you Ed!).

A great garden by a great gardener. Check out his work here!