Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Swift River Farm

For the past twenty years or so, Bruce Lockhart and his partner Gus Block have tirelessly worked to create a little slice of paradise at Swift River Farm. At times, they have hired garden designer Gordon Hayward for big projects, but they have done a great deal of the work themselves along with their fearless gardener and caretaker Beverly.  I deeply admire the work they have all done. The greatest thing about the garden is that it actually has everything- all parts of gardening that I love are flourishing. Bruce has built an impressive rock garden- chock full of hundreds of alpine, rocky treasures, a full-field meadow garden in the spirit of Piet Oudolf, plus formal English style gardens, a wandering woodland garden, and an orchard, bees, sheep and a vegetable garden! Even with all these different ideas, the place flows beautifully with the landscape, each area sliding into the next. They truly have it all.

In June, the garden will be on a garden tour to raise money for the East Quabbin Land Trust. The garden tour is scheduled for June 15th (rain date June 16th) from 10-4.  For more information, click here. In order to get ready for the tour, I was hired in to do some garden renovation in the more formal "English" style gardens near the house. Initially planted in the late 90's and early 2000's, it had been some time since they had been dug up, turned over, soil amended and re-planted. So that is what I (with the help of Bruce, Beverly, Matt and Laurie) did! We dug up all the old plants, placed them on tarps, excavated rocks and bolders, pulled out quack grass and vetch, dug and turned over the beds twice, mixing in beautiful, black composted goat manure. I ordered plants from Van Berkum Nursery, then taking the new and the old plant material, we reconfigured the layout. In the Pleasure Garden (pictured above), we kept to a theme of old fashioned classics, like Verbascums, Alcea, Campanula, but added some meadow-y twists- including the towering Helianthus salicifolius and Sanguisorba 'Tanna.' Next, we will thread annuals through the gardens. Unconsciously, but I think happily, I turned one of the gardens into a red and yellow garden. Most people scrunch their noses, trying to be  polite, but you just wait- it is (hopefully!) going to be gorgeous.

After everything was planted and watered in the Pleasure Garden...

This area, above the Willow garden was an annual/holding bed. Bruce suggested making a bed of beautiful grass. We dug this up and planted  Eragrostis spectabilis, Purple Love grass. I was trying to mimic the plantings of pink Mulenbergia that I have seen at the Denver Botanic Garden and at Chanticleer, but this grass is not hardy in MA. Then I came across the Purple Love Grass- which happens to be a Piet Uduolf favorite and one that they grow and sell at Great Dixter. So we can't go wrong here!

Across the way, under the upright Yews, is a mass planting of Amsonia hubrictii that Gordon Hayward designed. These areas of mass plantings offer a nice break and resting point, in between the packed in perennial borders.  

Looking up The Willow Garden to the house. This area was also dug up and turned over. The Willow Garden is also a blue garden so we stuck to the theme of purple, blue and silvery plants. Bruce wanted to move a row of boxwoods from an area of the garden and wondered where to put them. I suggested we move four of them to the interior of this garden to frame the bird bath. 

We did that, and then planted new and old plants into the freshly turned soil.

 A view from the Pleasure garden, down to the Willow garden.

Around the pond we planted Panicum 'Heavy Metal' on both sides. We needed to transplant the bright pink Lychnis coronaria that Bruce started from seed from the holding bed to somewhere... I thought the clouds of magenta would looks exciting with the steely blue grass. I tried to plant it to look self-seedy.

And now, Bruce's woodland garden.

Magnolia kobus 'Wada's Memory' with its sweet smell of vanilla.

Dangling yellow clusters of Corylopsis, which I did not know could survive our climate!

Bruce is part of a seed exchange, so he grew this little Primula frondosa from seed.

This is by far the best stand of Jeffersonia dubia I have ever seen, glorious and happy in the rock garden. There are countless treasures here and I hope to post more on Bruce's garden as the seasons change.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Trip to Tulum

 In the last week of March, Noah and I and friends took a trip to Tulum, Mexico. Here is a quick high light reel of all the things we saw.


Throughout the Yucatan Peninsula there are ancient Mayan cities; discovered, repaired, and preserved. There are impressive temples, solid dwellings, and beautiful relief carvings, which in the last century have been unearthed and restored, with plants kept at bay so that visitors can wander the ancient grounds. The ancient city of Tulum is one of the most beautiful (I was told) as it is situated on the sea- on a rocky bluff on the eastern coast. It is smaller than other sites (at least the restored areas) and the land is well cleared, allowing for long views.


We arrived in the early morning, catching perfect eastern light and avoiding the crowds which arrived en masse as we were leaving.

A view of the jungley forest from on top of the highest temple at the ancient city of Coba. 




As one can imagine, I was pretty enamored with the plants- they were everywhere, gorgeous and mysterious to me.  Here the Bougainvillea is used as a hedging plant along a roadway.

It was everywhere and beautiful.

 A Tillandsia of some sort. This genus of plants hung down from the rafters of most trees, surviving on air!

Cordyline fruitcosa

This was another plant we saw again and again. They grow on such spindly trunks, displaying a top heavy array of glowing magenta leaves.

Often seen lining pathways...


Nerium oleander decorates all the highway meridians, and in March it is in full bloom. Looking to be a hearty, healthy, no-nonsense shrubby plant; I saw it bloom in a range of pastel creams, yellows, oranges and pinks.

Cordia sebestena

This shrub-tree plant was blooming everywhere in brilliant orange.

Coccoloba uvifera

This was perhaps one of my favorite plants that grew right out of the sand and rocks, very close to the sea. We met a man who told us that he called it Marine Grape and as kids they would eat the fruit. It is in the buckwheat family, but it was very shrubby, with leggy branches covered in these clasping waxy leaves.

A little beach succulent with bright blue flowers. Thank you Bobbi Angell for your help identifying many of these tropical plants!


 This is one of the many openings into the elaborate and intricately connected underground river system. Open for snorkelers, we stuck our masks under the surface, giving us a glimpse down the ever-receding cave walls.


These stoic creatures held court in any hot, sunny, dry place.


We didn't visit any formal gardens, but everywhere we went the gardener's hand was hard at work, clipping, trimming, raking, and sifting the sand. It looked like a lot of work to keep the wild plants tame. To my eye, unfamiliar with what was actually native or not, it appeared that they worked with what was growing: encouraging and discouraging different plants. At the same time, there were countless places to buy plants, at many roadside tourist shops, beautiful tropical plants were being sold- but I never saw a plant tag! I was never sure if something was planted or just encouraged, native or non-native; either way, the plants and the gardens seamlessly merged with the landscape. I didn't see any formal garden beds, just a lot of careful and beautiful gardening.