A Sigh of Horticultural Happiness

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.

Rich indeed.


  1. But are you doing the USA again next year? And, as a cool-climate plant dunce, what are those amazing things that look like emerging pink sky rockets in the first photo?

    1. We can’t tell this far ahead if we’ll run the same itinerary next year. And the pink things? They’re a consistently pink form of the ‘red’ echium, Echium wildpretii. Not a cool climate plant but a decidedly Mediterranean-climate plant.

    2. Hi Michael – Are you also able to advise what the ground cover is directly under the Echium and the plants directly to the right?

      PS: I think all of the photographs you publish are fantastic.

    3. I wish I didn’t have to confess it, but I didn’t take any notice of what was providing the pink carpet. But that in itself highlights a point about dwarfed carpeting annuals – you just don’t ‘read’ them. They become colour-providers only.
      Having said that, close inspection of the many pics I have of this planting (considered posting the whole series, but..) has led me to think that its a dianthus – a dwarf form of Sweet William. And the plants to the right are hydrangeas.

  2. Hello Michael,

    A lovely wrap. I always a enjoy a good review of places I haven’t yet or may not get the chance to get to. Thank you

    Could you clarify the identity of the wild type tulip in your images.

    1. Hi Angela,
      The tulip is Tulipa clusiana, the Lady Tulip. It’s a stunner, eh? I remember a big fat row at Lambley nursery (Ascot) about four years ago, and David Glenn allowed my kids to pick bunches of them – a privilege that’s unlikely to be repeated in their lifetime

    2. Yes, I am a fan and you captured this plant to show its full glory. Thank you for the ID

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