Just back from the USA, and lingering in a state of garden bliss. In no other two- week period of my life have I accessed such a broad spectrum of garden aspiration and achievement (except, perhaps, running the same tour last year).
I’m a fan, for instance, of horticultural virtuosity, in whatever form. Even when I don’t love the results, or it isn’t to my taste, I love seeing people doing tricky or difficult things with plants. Good budgets that allow for generous staffing can facilitate this, but what’s needed above all else is vision and passion. At Longwood, you clearly have all of the above. The results are astonishing – a kind of extreme horticulture that elicits admiration, even if it’s not what you’d try yourself.
Then there’s the use of virtuosity for artistry – that practiced by gardeners who are so totally in command of their palette that they can really start to paint with plants, or if you’d prefer a literary metaphor, those who are so on top of their grammar and syntax that they can put together inspiring sentences – even paragraphs – of plants, as they practice at Chanticleer.
But that’s only two of the aspects of gardening we got to see. We touched on some great examples of plantsmanship, with rare trees that you had to stand right back to appreciate, and ephemeral plants so diminutive that you had to get down on your knees, or even in push-up stance, to really appreciate. I was totally unglued by this sighting of Glaucidium palmatum at Hollister House. I’d flowered it once myself – one insipid flower only, about twenty years ago, and nothing, nothing like this.
And at what might be considered the other end of this spectrum, we got to see some really great hard landscaping detail. Some was traditional, like at Dumbarton Oaks
And some contemporary, like on The High Line
Though here the worlds of artistry with plants, plantsmanship and superb hard landscaping design collide, like very few places on the planet.
And lastly, but not leastly, we caught several glimpses into that often under-rated aspect of gardens – the expression of the personality of the owner.
All gardens do this, more or less, but some are more articulate than others, and some garden owners more comfortable with the projection. The characteristics on display were probably uncountable, but we sure accessed high levels of idiosyncrasy, obsession and whimsy.