November Work: Cutting Down the Meadows

Last week, I performed what has become for me a ‘rite of November’: cutting down the meadows at our cottage on Lake Muskoka, a few hours north of Toronto. I have to admit, it isn’t my favourite chore of the year, though I acknowledge I don’t actually have a lot of “chores” up there, given the naturalistic way I garden. But it’s definitely the most labour-intensive – amidst the least pleasant weather conditions of autumn, as it usually turns out. This year it was blowing a gale as I assembled my wardrobe and tools:  hedge shears, rake, cart, bundling cloth and ropes, rubber boots, extra layers under my waterproof jacket and fleece band to keep my ears warm. I started out with the big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), the tallest of my prairie grasses, at 7 feet with its turkey-foot flowers. Considering it’s growing in shallow soil atop the ancient rock of the Canadian Precambrian shield, rather than the deep loam of the tallgrass prairie where its roots can extend far down, I think it’s rather happy at the cottage, and I took a selfie of us together before I chopped off its head!

Janet Davis-Lake Muskoka-Big bluestem in the meadow

Since my meadows and beds likely measure only about 1600 square feet or so, it’s not a lot to hand-cut with the hedge shears. People wonder why I don’t use a string trimmer, but I find that holding the weight of a trimmer just above ground is harder on my back than bending over and chopping the stems manually. I understand you can buy a harness for the trimmer, so that might be an improvement – but there’s something hypnotically satisfying about working with the shears.

Shears-cutting big bluestem-Lake Muskoka

As I work, I rake and pile the stems into windrows near the cart where I’ll eventually pack them up into bundles to carry by hand up the hill behind the cottage to a place out of sight where they can break down.

Cottage meadow-Lake Muskoka-November 15

If I don’t cut the meadows, the heavy snows of winter will soon bend down the grasses and forb stems, but the thatch that accumulates makes it less attractive for self-seeding wildflowers and daffodils emerging in spring. So if I want the scene below in mid-summer, it pays to prepare for it by cutting old growth.

Cottage meadow-Lake Muskoka-July 31st

And if I leave the switch grass (Panicum virgatum) standing after it turns colour in fall….

Switch grass-October-Lake Muskoka-fall colour

…. it will look like this in May.

Switch grass-May 15-Lake Muskoka-uncut

So I remove all the above ground growth in November.

Switch grass-November 15-Lake Muskoka-after cutting

And if I’m travelling during this late autumn window (as we have on a few occasions), the daffodils will still come up in the meadow the following spring, but it’s a bit of a struggle.

May 15-Big bluestem-Lake Muskoka-uncut-daffodils

In short, if I want this…..

Cottage bed & Orienpet Lily-July 31-Lake Muskoka

…I have to do this.

Cottage bed-November 15-Lake Muskoka

And if I want this…..

View of path-Lake Muskoka-July 31

….I have to do this.

View of path-Lake Muskoka-November15

I could hold off on the cutting until late winter or very early spring, when the ground is still frozen (as I do in my city meadow), but timing doesn’t always work that well up here and a fast thaw means I’m cutting on mucky soil. And since most of the seed-eating birds have flown south and those that remain seem adept at picking up seed from the ground, I’m happy to clear out this…..

Path through meadow-Lake Muskoka-November15

…. in order to enjoy this next summer.

Path through meadow-Lake Muskoka-July15

Beyond the chores of this month, I love the varied browns of November. I’ve even blogged about Beguiling Brown in the Garden. And I enjoy inspecting all the seedheads as the plants complete their life cycles. Plants like showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), its white panicled seedheads shown below alongside the charcoal autumn foliage of false indigo (Baptisia australis). (Incidentally, though these plants flower at the opposite ends of summer, they’re among the best for bumble bee foraging.)

Seedheads-Solidago speciosa & Baptisia australis-November

Here is the candelabra-like seedhead of culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) with the ubiquitous button-like seedheads of wild beebalm (Monarda fistulosa).

Seedheads-Veronicastrum virginicum & Monarda fistulosa-November

Those seedheads above, of course, are proof that the attractive summer flowers, shown below, attracted the pollination services of the appropriate wild bees.

Flowers-Veronicastrum virginicum & Monarda fistulosa-summer

And the late summer-autumn season has also allowed the various grasses to shine, below, including – apart from the big bluestem – Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and switch grass (Panicum virgatum).

Big Bluestem & Indian grass-Lake Muskoka

November is the perfect time for dormant seeding native wildflowers, so as I’m chopping the stems, I also do some fast sowing into the meadows, using my boot toe to kick little bare spots into the soil, then grinding some of the seeds just below the surface, while leaving others exposed. I do this with New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), below.

Fall seeding-New York Ironweed-Vernonia-Lake Muskoka

Chopping, raking, piling, carrying. Chopping, raking, piling, carrying. After a good day-and-a-half in blustery wind and intermittent cold rain, I manage to take 8 tied bundles of stems up the back hill to a spot on top of the pile of blast rock that was cleared when we built our home here on this waterbound peninsula 16 years ago. In time, the vegetation will decompose amidst the staghorn sumac pioneers and create a more complex meadow planting here.Compost pile-Lake Muskoka

Finally, as I finish washing out the cart, coiling the garden hoses, cleaning my tools, bringing everything indoors and preparing to drive back to the city in the waning light of the third day, I gather up a handful of the stems I’ve put aside in my cutting. Because apart from enjoying vases filled with summer flowers in July…..

Bouquet-July meadow flowers-Lake Muskoka

….. it feels virtuous, somehow, to accord these plants the same respect in November.

Bouquet-November meadow seedheads-Lake Muskoka

To capture a little of the atmosphere of what it’s like to perform this task in November, I’ve made a short video to enjoy here. (Please excuse the wind – it was impossible to find quiet moments.) The good news? My back and I are still on speaking terms!

 

A Tour of My Spring Garden

Come along with me on a little tour of my garden in mid-May!  I’ve meant to do this for several years, and this is the perfect week, since the cool weather up til today has kept everything looking good. Not just that, but I splurged last autumn and bought quite a few spring bulbs from my pal Caroline de Vries, who owns Tradewinds International in Mississauga, Ontario. And my pal Sara Katz planted most of them. But for some reason, loads of my old tulips seem to have multiplied this spring, adding to the party. Let’s start in my front garden. Isn’t this fun?  Though I’ve picked a lot of pinks and oranges, that luscious, black ‘Queen of Night’ is absolutely essential to make this garden ‘zing’.

Tulips-Janet Davis Front Garden-Toronto

Here’s a closer look, with the creamy fothergilla shrub and dainty ‘Thalia’ daffodils.

Tulips-Janet Davis Front Garden2-Toronto

Study the first two photos and you’ll see that my spring bulbs emerge in a sea of green foliage. While a front garden full of invasive, agressive lily-of-the-valley might provide a beautiful, fragrant background for all these bright hues, it’s definitely not recommended as a design tool. Nevertheless, if you happened to read last spring’s blog about how to make a fresh-picked lily-of-the-valley hat, you’ll know that I’ve done my best to come to terms with these perfumed thugs.

Lily-of-the-valley-invasive-Janet Davis garden

I love finding pretty groupings to photograph, like the one below.  And that dusty-rose tulip is a bit of a mystery. It might have been mislabelled – I didn’t order it – but it looks like ‘Champagne Diamond’.

Tulips-Janet Davis front garden

It’s pretty gorgeous, whatever it is…..

Tulipa 'Champagne Diamond'

I have nine Fothergilla gardenii plants in amongst the spring bulbs. Their foliage turns spectacular colours in autumn.

Fothergilla gardenii-Janet Davis garden-Toronto

Here are some of my favourite tulips. Let’s start with an oldie, ‘Perestroika’. This tall, late-flowered cottage tulip has multiplied over the years.

Tulipa 'Perestroika'-Janet Davis Garden

And ‘Carnaval de Nice’ has stuck around pretty well, too.

Tulipa 'Carnaval de Nice'-Janet Davis Garden

This is ‘Crispion Sweet’ – isn’t it lovely?

Tulipa 'Crispion Sweet'-Janet Davis garden-Toronto

‘Rococo’ is a luscious parrot tulip – and parrots are usually divas when it comes to longevity. But I planted these several years ago.Tulipa 'Rococo'-Janet Davis garen-Toronto

Here’s the lovely, late tulip ‘Dordogne’, below right, with ‘Queen of Night’.

Tulipa 'Queen of Night' & 'Dordogne'-Janet Davis Garden-Toronto

There are loads of daffodils in the front garden as well. I decided to stick with white to cool down this hot-coloured scheme, so there’s a combination of ‘Thalia’ with (below) pure white ‘Stainless’ and orange-centred, spicily-perfumed ‘Geranium’.

Narcissus 'Geranium'-Janet Davis garden-Toronto

The Back Yard

I have more spring happening in the back garden, so let’s head there. It might be fun for you to see it from my bedroom window.  That big cloud of white in the centre is Malus ‘Red Jade’, my lovely weeping crabapple planted over the little pond.

Back garden-upper view-Janet Davis-Toronto

If we head down to the deck, you get the view below.  That’s fragrant snowball viburnum (V. x carlcephalum) right in front of the deck, just about to open its incredibly-perfumed flower clusters.  The garden was designed to flow from the deck to the dining patio, which makes summer entertaining fun.

Back garden-Janet Davis-Toronto-Malus 'Red Jade'

This is a closer view of ‘Red Jade’. It’s an alternate-bearer, meaning every other year it puts on a great show like this, followed by masses of tiny red fruit.  It flowers very sparsely in the ‘off’ years.

Malus 'Red Jade'-pond garden

Here’s a view of the back of the house, from under the crabapple.

Janet Davis House-through crabapple

I’ve had the pagoda lantern for a long time. Though this little garden isn’t classically Japanese, it had a bit of that feel, so I though the lantern worked with the pond.

Malus 'Red Jade'-Janet Davis garden

I love this fresh combination in the lily pond garden, underplanted with self-seeded forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica).  Later, there is magenta phlox here.

Daffodil & Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'-Janet Davis Garden

The back garden is on the north side of the house, so it’s shadier. The tulips in my west border here tend to be surrounded by ostrich ferns, which would fill the entire garden if I let them.

Pink tulips & Ostrich ferns-Janet Davis Garden

This is ‘Mona Lisa’ – isn’t she lovely?

Tulipa 'Mona Lisa'-Janet Davis garden

‘Ballade’ is one of my favourite tulips – a very good perennializer.

Tulipa 'Ballade'-Janet Davis Garden

‘Texas Flame’ is no shrinking violet (!) and though I started with eight or so, I still have one or two that return each spring.

Tulipa 'Texas Flame'-Janet Davis Garden

If I ever knew the name of the orange beauty below, I’ve forgotten it.

Tulip orange

Same with this lovely, lily-flowered tulip…. maybe ‘Jacqueline’?

Tulipa - lily flowered -Janet Davis garden-Toronto

Native  Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) bloom in the ferns with the late tulips.

Mertensia virginica-Virginia bluebell-Janet Davis garden-Toronto

Where it’s sunnier, in the front as well as the back, there is elegant camassia (C. leichtlinii).

Camassia leichtlinii-Janet Davis Garden-Toronto

In my west side garden, Burkwood’s viburnum (V. x burkwoodii) is filled with fragrant blooms this year.

Viburnum x burkwoodii-Janet Davis-Toronto Garden

To access my east side garden, there’s a gate from the driveway fitted with a rusty, old heating grate. Have a peek down the path…..

Garden gate-see through grate-Janet Davis-Toronto

Let’s go in and walk down it   If you look back, you can see the gate.  See the arched stems of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum)? They’re one of my favourite natives and so easy to grow.  That’s European ginger (Asarum europeaeum) at the base of the black walnut tree.

Solomon's Seals & path-Janet Davis garden

There are bleeding hearts in this pathway, too.

Bleeding heart-Dicentra spectabilis-Janet Davis garden

So that’s my garden in mid-May!  I’ll leave you with this little video of my 2-year-old grandson Oliver, who enjoyed “tiptoeing through the tulips” in a thunderstorm a few days ago. Toddlers and tulips….. time is fleeting, and I’ve learned to enjoy them both for the short time they’re around!

 

Piet Oudolf: Meadow Maker – Part Two

Following on part one, this is the second part of my exploration of the Piet Oudolf-designed entry border at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Planting Plan-Piet Oudolf-Hardscape-Martin Wade-Toronto Botanical Garden

The plant design of the entry walk garden at Toronto Botanical Garden is much more exacting than the drifts and blocks in a conventional border. If you think of a broad meadow like this as a painting, the effect of each series of neighbouring brush strokes is known in advance.  For these plants are like children to Piet Oudolf, many grown and observed for decades in his own Dutch garden, many even bred by him or fellow nurserymen in the Netherlands and Germany.

Piet Oudolf Entry Garden-Toronto Botanical Garden

Designed Combinations

Let’s skip around Piet’s original planting design and have a look at twelve of the combinations he planned, as they manifested themselves over the past decade.  It’s important to note that all these plants fulfill Piet’s mandate that plants must be: relatively adaptable to soil, i.e. neither too wet nor too dry; vigorous enough to grow without fertilizers or pesticides; strong enough to stand without staking (as with the lovely single peonies in Part One, in contrast to floppy double peonies). Plants should be resilient and long-lived. His plant combinations are not dictated by colour, but by form; however, you’ll see some lovely colour pairings in the examples below.

1.Willowleaf bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia) and ‘Purple Smoke’ false indigo (Baptisia australis).

Design-Amsonia & Baptisia-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

This is one of the most stable and effective pairings in the entry garden.

Design-Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia & Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Year after year, these two North American natives (technically, the baptisia selection is called a “nativar”, i.e.  native cultivar) emerge and come into flower at exactly the same time.  They seem to be on the very same wavelength, and equally lovely. And the amsonia, of course, takes on golden-yellow hues in autumn.

Design-Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia & Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'2-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

2. ‘Roma’ masterwort (Astrantia major) and ‘Rose Clair’ geranium (G. x oxonianum).

Astrantia 'Roma' & Geranium x oxonianum 'Rose Clair'-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

These two late-spring perennials share a pleasing rosy hue and a soft presence.

Design-Astrantia 'Roma' & Geranium x oxonianum 'Rose Clair'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

3.‘Claret’ masterwort (Astrantia major) & ‘Mainacht’ =’May Night’ meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa).

Design-Astrantia major 'Claret' & Salvia nemorosa 'Mainacht'-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

Dark-red ‘Claret’ astrantia is another Piet Oudolf breeding selection, a seedling (like his ‘Roma’ above), of ‘Ruby Wedding’. It looks lovely here in a romantic June combination with indigo-blue ‘Mainacht’ sage. To the left is ornamental clover (Trifolium rubens), to the right is drumstick allium (A. sphaerocephalon).

Design-Astrantia major 'Claret' & Salvia nemorosa 'Mainacht'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

4. Alaskan burnet (Sanguisorba menziesii) & ‘Amethyst’ meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa).

Design-Salvia nemorosa 'Amethyst' & Sanguisorba menziesii-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

I’ll talk a little more about the wonderful burnets in Special Plants below, but this is a good early-summer combination: with zingy, dark-red Alaskan burnet (Sanguisorba menzisii) at rear, violet-mauve Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’ in front, and a lttle spiderwort (Trandescantia) too. If you’re a bee-lover, the meadow sages are fabulous lures.

Design-Salvia nemorosa 'Amethyst' & Sanguisorba menziesii-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

5. ‘Concord Grape’ spiderwort (Tradescantia x andersoniana) & Knautia macedonica.

Design-Tradescantia 'Concord Grape' & Knautia macedonica-Piet Oudolf-Toronto Botanical Garden

Speaking of bees, both violet-purple spiderwort and dark-red knautia are excellent bee plants, but I do love these jewel-box colours together in early summer. The light-purple cranesbill is Geranium ‘Spinners’.

Design-Tradescantia 'Concord Grape' & Knautia macedonica-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

6. ‘Hummelo’ betony (Stachys officinalis)  & ‘Cassian’ fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides).

Design-Stachys officinalis 'Hummelo' & Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Cassian'-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

Here are two of Piet’s German heritage plants growing side by side: Ernst Pagel’s lovely Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ and the fountain grass named for Cassian Schmidt, director of Hermannshof.

Design-Stachys officinalis 'Hummelo' & Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Cassian'-Piet Oudolf-Toronto Botanical Garden

7. ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint (Nepeta racemosa) & ‘Cloud Nine’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum)

Design-Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low' & Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine'-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

Catmints are workhorses: long-flowering, great for bees, hardy, with tidy, aromatic foliage.  They do get big in time, but that just means more plants after dividing. Here it is as the switch grass (a warm season grass) is just getting going in early summer. It’s called ‘Cloud Nine’ for its impressive height, to 7 feet (2.1 metre).

Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low' & Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine'-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden

8. ‘Gentle Shepherd’ daylily (Hemerocallis) & ‘Purpurlanze’=’Purple Lance’ astilbe (A. chinensis var. tacquetii)

Design-Hemerocallis 'Gentle Shepherd' & Astilbe chinensis var. tacquetii 'Purpurlanze'-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botaniical Garden

When the entry walk garden first came into bloom in 2008, I was surprised to see a few daylilies in it. I suppose I thought that with Piet’s focus on the importance of good foliage, daylilies would simply not make the cut, given the tendency of their leaves to go brown and look straggly in late summer. But surprise! There are a few old-fashioned daylilies, including pale-yellow ‘Gentle Shepherd’ which makes a good companion to the fuchsia-pink flowers of spectacular ‘Purpurlanze’ astilbe and is considered a seasonal “filler” plant (see Scatter Plants and Fillers below), with other perennials emerging to carry on the late summer show.

Design-Hemerocallis 'Gentle Shepherd' & Astilbe chinensis var. tacquetii 'Purpurlanze'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

9. ‘Blue Angel’ hosta (Hosta sieboldiana) & ‘Firedance’ mountain fleece (Persicaria amplexicaulis).

Design-Hosta sieboldiana 'Blue Angel' & Persicaria 'Firedance' - Piet Oudolf Design-Toronto Botanical Garden

Yes, Piet Oudolf uses hostas! (Shhh…don’t tell anyone….)  Actually, the big ‘Blue Angel’ hostas here are favourites of Piet’s for their beautiful leaf texture. They act as anchors (there’s one at the other end, too) for this long border. And when they’re flowering, there are always bees buzzing around the white blooms. I like the way the tall white burnet behind echoes the hosta flowers. These hostas also undergo their own foliage transformation, turning gold in autumn. The ‘Firedance’ mountain fleece or bistort (Piet’s introduction) is more compact than ‘Firetail’, and a good, long-flowering perennial.

Design-Hosta sieboldiana 'Blue Angel' & Persicaria 'Firedance'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

A honey bee works the flowers of Hosta sieboldiana ‘Blue Angel’.

Honey bee on Hosta sieboldiana 'Blue Angel'

10. ‘Little Spire’ Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) & rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium)

Design-Perovskia 'Little Spire' & Eryngium yuccifolium-plan

This is one of my favourite combinations in the entire entry border: the yin-yang combination of the assertive, spiky rattlesnake master and the soft, hazy spires of Russian sage. Peeking through behind are more pink ‘Purpurlanze’ astilbe and ‘Gentle Shepherd’ daylilies.

Design-Perovskia 'Little Spire' & Eryngium yuccifolium-Piet Oudolf Entry border

11. Sea lavender (Limonium latifolium) and dense blazing star (Liatris spicata)

Design-Limonium latifolium & Liatris spicata-Piet Oudolf garden-Toronto Botanical Garden (2)

In writing in Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life about their collaboration on the 1999 book Designing with Plants, Noel Kingsbury refers to a section of the earlier book called Moods. “We outlined the impact of the more subtle and hard-to-pin-down aspects of planting design, such as the play of light, movement, harmony, control and ‘mysticism’. I am still not 100 percent sure I know what we meant by this category, apart from a lot of mist in the pictures, but it looked good and sounded good.”  For me, the vignette below touches a little on mysticism. There’s something about this combination of forms — the solid echinaceas, the constellation of spent knautia seedheads, the regimental spikes of blazing star, the soft cloud of sea lavender, the blades of grass — that seems almost dream-like. This is my childhood meadow idealized.

Design-Limonium latifolium & Liatris spicata-Piet Oudolf garden-Toronto Botanical Garden (1)

12. ‘Royal Purple’ smokebush (Cotinus coggygria) & ‘Amazone’ Jerusalem sage (Phlomis tuberosa)

Design-Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' & Phlomis 'Amazone-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Once in a while, you might see a story (usually British) that refers to Piet Oudolf and the other practitioners of the so-called “Dutch Wave” of naturalistic design as focusing entirely on perennials to the exclusion of woody shrubs and trees.  If you don’t know Piet’s work with trees and shrubs (including roses) at The High Line and elsewhere, you won’t see the fallacy in that line of thought. Though the entry garden at the TBG is primarily a perennial meadow, there are shrubs and vines in a few places, including lilac (Syringa), Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia), chaste-tree (Vitex agnus-castus) and purple-leaved smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’).  I love the vignette, below, with the burgundy-red foliage and smoky fruit of the smoke bush and the Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’ with the tall alliums (likely ‘Gladiator’) and a sprinkle of white foxglove penstemon (P. digitalis), which is not on Piet’s plan but is now in the border and quite lovely in early summer.

Design-Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' & Phlomis 'Amazone-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

Scatter Plants and Fillers 

In the book Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life, by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury (The Monacelli Press, 2015), there are pages devoted to Piet’s use of “scatter plants” and “fillers”.  Scatter plants are defined as “individuals or very small groupings of plants interspersed among blocks of plant varieties or through a matrix planting, breaking up the regularity of the pattern; their distribution is generally quasi-random.”  Scatter plants can act as links in a border, even unifying it, adding contrasting splashes of colour, like the orange-red Helenium autumnale ‘Rubinzwerg’, below…..

Filler-Helenium 'Rubinzwerg'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

…or a pop of colour that later disappears, like the Oriental poppies in the entry garden that later go dormant.

Papaver orientale 'Flamenco'

Fillers are plants whose interest lasts less than three months; though they may have good foliage, they don’t have the structure normally associated with an Oudolf design. They’re good for “filling gaps earlier in the year.” Knautia macedonica does this and cranesbills or perennial geraniums do, too. As Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury wrote in Designing with Plants (Timber Press, 1999), “Think how quickly the neat hemispheres of a hardy geranium turn into a sprawling mass of collapsed stems once the flowers have died.” Yet, when in bloom, they give a starry effect, like the white form of mourning widow cranesbill (Geranium phaeum ‘Album’), below, twinkling among the opening blossoms of Paeonia ‘Bowl of Beauty’.

Filler-Geranium phaeum 'Album' & peonies-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Grasses

If there’s a hallmark group of plants that defines a Piet Oudolf design, it is ornamental grasses. In fact, he and Anja believed so strongly in their value in gardens that they held an annual Grass Days at their garden in Hummelo. And the 1998 book Gardening with Grasses, co-written by Michael King and Piet Oudolf, advanced that respect. Among the grasses featured in the entry garden are:

1.‘Skyracer’ moor grass (Molinia arundinacea), shown here with ‘Gateway’ Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum).  This grass is the perfect example of Piet’s use of plants that act as “screens and curtains”. In Designing with Plants, they’re described as “mostly air, and their loose growth creates another perspective as you look through them to the plants growing behind.” This rosy pairing, incidentally, also says ‘mysticism’ to me.

Grasses-Molinia caerulea 'Transparent' & Eutrochium 'Gateway'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

2.‘Cassian’ fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), here with ‘FIretail’ red bistort (Persicaria amplexicaulis)

Pennisetum alopecuroides'Cassian' & Persicaria 'Firetail'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

3. Korean feather grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha). Lovely and hardy as it is, its plumes gorgeous in late summer and autumn, this grass did exhibit a tendency to seed around in the entry garden at TBG and had to be watched carefully.

Grasses-Calamagrostis brachytricha-fall-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Here is Korean feather grass in winter.

Grasses-Calamagrostis brachytricha-winter-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

4.Tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) with sea lavender (Limonium latifolium)

Grasses-Piet Oudolf-Limonium latifolium & Deschampsia caespitosa-Toronto Botanical Garden

5.’Shenandoah’, a selection of the tallgrass prairie native switch grass (Panicum virgatum), here showing its reddish leaves.

Grasses-Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah'-Switch grass-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

6.‘Strictum’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum) with its gold fall colour and seedheads of penstemon and echinacea.

Grasses-Panicum virgatum 'Strictum'

7. Northern dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), another tallgrass prairie native, its tiny, zingy flowers doing a dance with the small, pale-pink blossoms of North American native winged loosestrife (Lythrum alatum).  More on this perennial in the next section.

Grasses-Sporobolus heterolepis & Lythrum alatum-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Native North American Plants

Mention of the little-known native winged loosestrife brings me to Piet Oudolf’s use of native North American plants. By the time he was commissioned to do the planting scheme for the TBG’s entry border in 2005-6, Piet had become friends with Wisconsin plantsman Roy Diblik, author of The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden, with whom he worked on Chicago’s Lurie Garden at Millennium Park. As we learn in Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life, when they visited the Schulenberg Prairie together in 2002,  Roy recalls that Piet “was so taken with it. It was a very emotional moment for him.”  After visiting this prairie and the Markham prairie later that year, Piet began to use many more North American plants in his designs, including some of the less well-known species in my list below.

1.Winged loosestrife (Lythrum alatum) – Mention ‘purple loosestrife’ to ecologically-aware people and alarm bells ring. Try telling them that there IS a native purple(ish) loosestrife and they don’t trust you. Or it could mutate. Or it might really be that other one, the Eurasian invader that’s drying up wetlands everywhere (Lythrum salicaria).  But part of Piet Oudolf’s education with Roy Diblik was the discovery of this sweet plant. Native to moist prairies in Illinois and other parts of the northeast, it is at home in a well-irrigated garden where, rather than taking over like its cousin, it will work hard just to have its little pink flowers noticed.

Lythrum alatum-winged loosestrife

Here’s winged loosestrife with ‘Ice Ballet’ swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Both species are wetlanders, but do well in regular irrigated soil.

Native wetlanders-Lythrum alatum & Ascelpias incarnata-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

2. Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), shown above, is a larval plant for the monarch butterfly and a fabulous bee plant. The honey bee, shown below with two bumble bees, comes from the TBG’s five beehives and the Oudolf entry garden is a rich nectar source for them.

Natives-Bees on Asclepias incarnata 'Ice Ballet'

This is the straight species of Asclepias incarnata with pink flowers and a nectaring carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica).

Natives-Asclepias incarnata & carpenter bee

3. Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) – The soft drift of leadplant in the Oudolf entry garden, below, was my first acquaintance with this lovely tallgrass prairie native,one of a few true Ontario natives in the garden. Its common name refers to the old belief that its presence indicated that there were lead deposits nearby, but that was disproven long ago.  Its other folk names include downy indigobush (because it looks a little like indigofera) and buffalo bellows (because, to the native Oglala people who brewed it for a medicinal tea, it came into bloom when bison were in their bellowing-rutting season). A legume, it nitrifies the soil in which it grows (it’s usually considered a subshrub, rather than a perennial) and is one of the few natives that tolerates both dry soil and part-shade.

Natives-Amorpha canescens-leadplant-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Bees love leadplant and its stamens provide a bright orange pollen. This is the brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis).

Natives-Amorpha canescens & bumble bee

4. Dense Blazing star (Liatris spicata) – One of the best tallgrass prairie natives for any sunny border, dense blazing star is no stranger to European gardens either, since it’s been available there in the cultivars ‘Kobold’ (shorter and darker purple than the species) and ‘Floristan Violet’ for  decades. Like all Liatris species, it’s a great bee and butterfly plant and a good companion for echinaceas, including Piet Oudolf’s introduction below, ‘Vintage Wine’.

Natives-Liatris spicata & Echinacaea 'Vintage Wine'-Piet Oudolf introduction-Toronto Botanical Garden

Mention is often made of ‘repetition’ in a Piet Oudolf design and this rhythmic syncopation of blazing stars across the vignette below illustrates how those magenta-purple spikes help carry the eye naturally from one side to the other.

Natives-Liatris spicata-Yarrow-Perovskia-Knautia-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

5. Amsonias, Bluestars (Amsonia hubrichtii & Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia) – When I was writing my newspaper column in the mid-1990s, there was a sudden fuss about a genus of North American plants I’d never heard of. Amsonias were on the scene, and I planted Arkansas bluestar (A. hubrichtii) in my garden, which promptly turned up its toes and died. (It may have been a hardiness issue in an unusually cold winter, since this plant is native to the Ouachita mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma.) Nevertheless, it gained traction in gardening circles and in 2011 was named the Perennial Plant Association’s Perennial of the Year.  This is how it looks in the Oudolf border with late spring bulbs.

Amsonia hubrichtii-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Arguably the brilliant yellow of the autumn foliage, below, is even more impressive than its ice-blue late spring flowers. Perhaps with our warmer winters, this species will continue to survive and thrive. 

Natives-Amsonia hubrichtii & Vitex agnus-castus-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

There are many species of Amsonia in commerce now, but willowleaf bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia) is a good performer in the TBG entry garden and exceptionally hardy.

Natives-Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia

6.Joe Pye Weeds (Eutrochium sp., syn. Eupatorium) – The big Joe Pye weeds lend a powerful presence to the entry border in August and September, especially the statuesque ‘Gateway’ (Eutrochium maculatum) below. Given sufficient moisture, they thrive, last a long time in flower……

Natives-Eutrochium maculatum 'Gateway'-Piet Oudolf border-Tornto Botanical Garden

….. and attract myriad bees and butterflies to their dusty pink flowers.

Natives-Monarch butterfly on Eutrochium maculatum 'Gateway'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

7. Wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) – Native to dry prairie glades in Wisconsin, Illinois and regions south and west, this short, sprawling perennial has lilac-purple, petunia-like blossoms that are beloved by hummingbirds.  Not showy, but a good little edge-of-path stalwart with a tap root. Self-seeds, too.

Natives-Wild petunia-Ruellia humilis-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

8. Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) – One of the mainstays of Piet Oudolf’s designs is this aromatic North American Midwest mint family perennial with bee-friendly, lavender-purple flower spikes in mid-late summer. It spreads slowly by rhizomes.

Natives-Agastache foeniculum-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Agastache foeniculum ‘Blue Fortune’ is an excellent selection with good winter presence.

Seedheads-Agastache 'Blue- Fortune'-Piet Oudolf-Toronto Botanical Garden

9. Bowman’s root (Porteranthus trifoliatus, syn. Gillenia trifoliata) – One of the most beautiful pictures in the entry border is right at the end (or beginning, depending which way you’re walking) where the path intersects with the entrance to the Floral Hall Courtyard. Here, in June, a starry cloud of Bowman’s root or Indian physic rises behind a skirt of Japanese hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra).  In its midst is a hybrid witch hazel which, though small now, will in time produce filtered shade under its boughs – and Bowman’s root is just fine in that light.

Natives-Porteranthus trifoliatus-Gillenia-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Here it is with a few neighbours: Geranium psilostemon and Hosta sieboldiana ‘Blue Angel’.

Natives-Porteranthus tritrifoliatus-Hosta 'Blue Angel'-Geranium psilostemon-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Special Plants

Sanguisorbas or Burnets – Piet Oudolf, more than any other plant designer, has made abundant use of the great genus Sanguisorba, the burnets.  Hardy, reliable and taking up much less space on the ground than their tall, far-flung inflorescences do in the air, they are a much underused group of perennials.  This is Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Alba’, or the white form of Chinese burnet, flowering alongside annual Verbena bonariensis.

Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Alba'

Like Molinia caerulea ‘Transparent’, Chinese burnet is another good ‘screen’ or ‘scrim’ plant, even as its flowers fade. Here it is in front of Helenium autumnale ‘Fuego’.

Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Alba'-Helenium 'Fuego'-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden

This is the purple-flowered form of Chinese burnet, Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Purpurea’, growing in an attractive combination with Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium sp.)

Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Purpurea' & Eutrochium maculatum 'Gateway'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Even the skeletons look strange and wonderful in autumn.

Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Alba'-autumn-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Burnets are good wildlife plants, attracting bees to their abundant pollen…..

Honey bee on Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Alba'

…. and birds to their seedheads in autumn. In my little video below, sparrows are enjoying the seeds of Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Alba’, while American goldfinches are feeding on the seed of an unlabelled burnet I suspect is Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Pink Elephant’.

Birds & Bees

Speaking of birds and bees, as a photographer of honey bees, bumble bees and various native and non-native bees, I’d be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to just a few of the great pollinator plants in the Oudolf entry border (besides the ones above, of course).

Calamint (Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta) – Calamint is, without doubt, the ‘buzziest’ bee plant there is. The sound is really something, with honey bees and bumble bees all over the tiny flowers – and there are tons of tiny flowers on this bushy little perennial.

Honey bee on Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta

‘Walker’s Low’ catmint (Nepeta racemosa) – Long-flowering catmints are superb bee plants, putting out nectar beloved by bumble bees and honey bees.

Bumble bee on Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low'

Wlassov’s cranesbill (Geranium wlassovianum) – Previously unknown to me, this little Asian geranium has become one of my favourites. Not only does it flower for an incredibly long time and prefer filtered shade, its flowers are always dancing with bees and its leaves turn red in autumn.

Honey bee on Geranium wlassovianum

‘Robustissima’ Japanese anemone (Anemone tomentosa) – Japanese anemones are invaluable for their late summer-early autumn flowers, especially the singles like this lovely selection. And their stamens provide rich pollen at a time of year when bees are still looking to provision their nests.

Anemone 'Robustissima' and bumble bee

‘Autumn Bride’ alumroot (Heuchera villosa) – It’s fun to watch honey bees working the tiny white flowers of this fabulous late heuchera.

Honey bee on Heuchera villosa 'Autumn Bride'

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – Echinacea and many of the selections are excellent bumble bee flowers, but they also provide abundant food for seed-eating birds like American goldfinch.  A good reason not to cut down your perennial garden in late summer!

Goldfinch-eating Echinacea seeds-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Seedheads

While we’re on the topic of seedheads, one of the hallmarks of Piet Oudolf’s design philosophy is the use of plants that perform beyond their flowering season, with persistent stems and seedheads that provide structure in the garden into autumn and winter. These are just a few of the entry border’s distinctive seedheads:

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – The familiar chambered pods of milkweeds ripen, dry and split open in late autumn to reveal a layered arrangement of teardrop-shaped seeds topped by fine hairs. Over the next week or two, the seeds will gradually lift off on their silken parachutes, aloft on the wind to land on an empty inch of damp soil on which they’ll germinate the following spring. This is the milkweed life cycle that has evolved over millennia in all its regional species throughout North America in partnership with the monarch butterfly, whose females lay their eggs on the leaves, which then feed the developing caterpillar until it forms its chrysalis to emerge as the familiar orange-and-black butterfly we admire so.

Seedheads-Asclepias-Piet-Ou

‘Purpurlanze’ astilbe (Astilbe chinensis var. tacquetii) – I love the feathery bronze plumes of this Ernst Pagel-bred astilbe with the fountain grass (Pennisetum) behind.

Seedheads-Astilbe

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – Long after the American goldfinches (above) have migrated south for the winter and the first snows have fallen, the raised seedheads of echinacea flowers still show their Fibonacci architecture.

Seedheads-Echinacea-Piet Oudolf-Toronto Botanical Garden

‘Fascination’ Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) – The coppery wands of spent Culver’s root look beautiful against the tawny grasses of late autumn.

Seedheads-Veronicastrum-virginicum-'F

Plants That Go, Plants That Come…..

Not all of the original plants in the design thrived beyond a few years. One that was quite short-lived was the beautiful ornamental clover (Trifolium rubens), with dark pink flowers, below.  In an ideal world, this plant would be allowed to self-seed, ensuring progeny for successive seasons. But it has petered out gradually.

Plants-short-lived-Trifolium rubens-Piet Oudolf border-TOronto Botanical Garden

Some of the yellow and orange hybrid echinaceas, like yellow ‘Sunrise’ shown in the early years with purple liatris, below, have also largely given up the ghost. Their lack of longevity (contrasted with the reliable long life of Piet’s Echinacea ‘Vintage Wine’) seems to be part-and-parcel of their genetic makeup, a fact Noel Kingsbury acknowleges in Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life. “The 2000s saw a lot of breeding of E. purpurea with other Echinacea species, mostly in the U.S…… Some exciting color breaks – oranges and apricots – resulted, but the plants were mostly short-lived. For those wanting longer-lived plants, this breeding has not been of any use. We can only hope that someone picks up Piet’s work on longevity.”

Plants-Short-lived- Echinacea 'Sunrise'-Piet Oudolf borer-Toronto Botanical Garden

Unlike a traditional perennial bed or mixed shrub-perennial border with a modest number of plants, a broad meadow planting like the entry garden with its huge cast of flowery characters is an open invitation to opportunistic plants, good and bad. With so many gardens (including a natural woodland) surrounding the entry walk, it was inevitable that seeds would fly into the rich, irrigated soil – either on the wind, or carried by birds. One of the immigrants – from the green roof of the administration building – is  lovely foxglove penstemon, P. digitalis, a plant whose red-leafed form ‘Husker Red’ is used by Piet in his designs.  Easy, prolific. drought-tolerant and a great bumblebee and hummingbird plant, this penstemon’s shimmering white spikes are quite lovely in June. It’s one of my favourite perennials.

Penstemon digitalis-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

But there are also seeds that may have been in the soil for many years, just waiting to germinate. Such is the case with common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), below, which I first spotted in my photos in 2011, four years after the garden was planted. Like Canada goldenrod, this is an aggressive native that spreads not only by seed, but by rhizomes underground.  Beautiful and fragrant as it is, is difficult to maintain a small population. And given that the better-behaved swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is here already and there are ‘wild’ places on the TBG property where common milkweed could be welcomed for its relationship to monarch butterflies, I hope it is kept in check so the design intent of the Oudolf garden is not lost.

Asclepias syriaca-common milkweed-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Which brings me to maintenance. Toronto Botanical Garden currently operates on a financial shoestring. Unlike other popular parks and public places in Toronto, the TBG receives a pittance from the city. Hopefully, that will change in the near future as the City of Toronto Parks Department and the TBG conduct public consultations (two so far, one in November 2016, the last in late February) towards greatly increasing the size of the garden from the current 4 acres to 30 acres, placing all the current Edwards Gardens within a civically-supported Toronto Botanical Garden.  However, at the moment, the head gardener works with just a few assistants and a changing team of volunteers to maintain not just the entry garden, but the other 16 gardens on site, and one or two off-site.

Maintenance-Piet Oudolf Border-Volunteers-Toronto Botanical Garden

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For perspective, I chatted with Toronto Landscape architect Martin Wade of Martin Wade Landscape Architects, below right, who collaborated with Piet Oudolf, left, on the design of the entry border, which was gifted to the TBG by the Garden Club of Toronto.

Piet-Oudolf-Martin-Wade

Martin fondly recalled their first meeting.  “It was absolutely wonderful collaborating with Piet.  He is extremely down-to-earth, humble and generous.  I remember so clearly the very first time we met.  After picking him up at the airport, we came back to our house where my partner was preparing dinner.  It was shortly after we had moved in. I had not yet “done” the garden – it was a collection of plants left over from the previous owners. We were in the midst of a renovation and the place was in a bit of a shambles.  IKEA curtains hung to cover exposed plumbing, bare sub-floor in some areas, and yet with all of this, it was somehow as though we had known one another for ages   Piet sat down in a chair that had clearly seen better days and, over a single-malt whisky, the three of us talked about life in general and what our respective interests were. When I asked him what was important to him, he answered, without any hesitation, ‘Quality.  Quality in terms of food, wine, art, relationships, architecture, landscape, virtually everything in life.’  The notion of quality as being the driving force that stimulates him has stuck with me.”

Martin & I talked about maintenance. Unlike Chicago’s 2.5 acre Piet Oudolf-designed Lurie Garden (Landscape Architects: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol), which cost $12.5 million and has a $10 million endowment for maintenance alone, the TBG’s entry garden has no separate budget for maintenance. Similarly, unlike the Oudolf-designed Marjorie G. Rosen Seasonal Walk at the New York Botanical Garden, below, a much smaller garden which has the equivalent of half-a-full-time employee dedicated to maintenance (including the hedge), there is no dedicated employee budgeted for the TBG’s Oudolf garden. 

Marjorie J. Rosen Walk-New York Botanical Garden-Piet Oudolf Design

Before the entry garden was installed, Piet Oudolf, Martin Wade and the Garden Club of Toronto (GCT) had a frank discussion about long-term maintenance of the garden. By Piet’s estimate, the entry border would require a minimum of one full-time gardener dedicated to its upkeep. “As Piet explained,” recalls Martin, “His gardens, while ‘naturalistic’ and ‘meadow-like’ in appearance, are anything but low maintenance.  They require regular tending to keep species that were not part of the original design out. I have noticed the invasion of common milkweed in the garden.  This is a plant that has a host of great qualities and should be encouraged and let flourish in the right locations.  However, it was not part of the original plan.  The intent always was that the garden would be monitored yearly to ensure any of the more aggressive species in the plan were kept in check, and that the original plan be maintained, other than in the case of some species that just might not perform well, for which minor design adjustments would have to be made.  This ‘monitoring’ process involves taking a copy of the plan in hand, walking throughout the garden, making note of what has crept into areas in which it was not meant to, and making adjustments accordingly.” 

Sadly,” he continues, “I don’t think the garden is achieving to the full extent the goals that were envisioned when the project began.  I don’t mean this in any way as a criticism of the TBG or its staff, as I realize the extreme pressure they are under with respect to finances and resources that can be allocated to maintenance, not only of the entry garden, but all of their gardens.  Maintenance is such a huge issue for all gardens, private or public, not only for the TBG gardens.  It is relatively sexy these days to give a new building wing naming rights to honour the benefactor who helped make it a reality.  The same applies to gardens.  While a ‘sexy motive’ was not their intent, the Garden Club of Toronto was nonetheless very generous in gifting the Piet Oudolf/MWLA garden to the TBG.  That is their mandate.  The GCT funds public garden projects.”

Martin cites another of his projects to illustrate the level of financial commitment needed. “Our firm designed the Helen M. Kippax Garden at the Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton.  The funds for this garden were donated by the late Mary Stedman in honour of her aunt Helen Kippax, one of the founding members of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects.  Ms. Stedman’s donation is suitably honoured by a plaque in the garden.  She also had the foresight and financial ability to donate money to a trust fund, the interest from which is earmarked solely for the maintenance of the Kippax Garden.  We need these types of visionaries, and institutions need to find a way to raise money not only for the installation of our public gardens, but for their long-term maintenance.

Helen Kippax Garden-Royal Botanical Garden-Martin Wade Design

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But if the entry garden could use more a little more manpower to relieve the hard-working gardeners and volunteers, it is still, without a doubt, my favourite garden at the TBG. It takes me back to that childhood meadow I’ve carried in my heart for 60 years. It nourishes bees and butterflies and birds and the spirits of the visitors who walk the long path, flanked by a profusion of beautiful blossoms and swishing grasses.

Piet Oudolf Entry Garden-Toronto Botanical Garden-September

And in case you haven’t taken that walk yourself, let me leave you with a beautiful memory of a warm August afternoon in the entry garden at Toronto Botanical Garden. Thank you, Garden Club of Toronto. Thank you, gardeners. Thank you, Martin Wade. And thank you, Piet Oudolf.

Piet Oudolf: Meadow Maker – Part One

It was early April 1999, and we were visiting Hummelo in the Netherlands so I could talk with Piet Oudolf and see his garden. I had read his books and followed his burgeoning design career with interest.  Given my childhood love of wild places, I was always more interested in designers who embraced a naturalist ethos and synthesized that into their work, whether purely aesthetic or ecology-based. When we visited Hummelo, I had just finished an in-depth magazine profile on Michael Hough, a seminal member of the mid-20th century ecological landscape movement. Scotland-born Michael had been a student of Ian McHarg (Design With Nature) at Edinburgh’s College of Art and later at the University of Pennsylvania, before founding the University of Toronto’s Undergraduate program in Landscape Architecture, then moving to York University to teach in their fledgling Environmental Studies program and publish his own book, Cities and Natural Process.  Later on this trip, we would visit the botanical garden at Leiden and Ecolonia in Alphen aan den Rijn, below, an experimental housing development whose architecture, landscape, utilities and infrastructure had been built earlier that decade using principles of ecological design.

Ecolonia-Alphen aan den Rijn

Hummelo

The Oudolfs were generous in greeting us. Anja still ran the nursery then, Kwekerij Oudolf with its goddess Flora…..

Hummelo-1999-Folly

….. and retail customers were busy buying the plants that the Oudolfs raised to use in Piet’s designs. In time, other Dutch growers would become adventurous in their plant introductions; this fact, combined with the demands of Piet’s business and Anja’s busy schedule accommodating groups wanting to tour the garden eventually caused the Oudolfs to close the nursery and build a studio in its place.

Hummelo-1999-Piet Oudolf-nursery

We toured the garden; as it was early spring, not much was in bloom, but the hellebores and wild phlox were lovely.

Hummelo-1999-Piet Oudolf-hellebores

The Stachys byzantina ellipses were still there, along with the famous yew towers and undulating yew hedges which would later be damaged by flooding. Both features were eventually removed and this garden was planted with sweeping perennials.

Hummelo-1999-Stachys circle

The trial beds were impressively ordered – and vital in teaching Piet how various perennials performed: their hardiness, floriferousness, optimal companions, seedhead properties, pollinator attraction, winter persistence, etc.

Hummelo-1999-plant trial beds

It was still very much a place where the Oudolfs worked as a team to expand and improve the palette of plants, but there were abundant touches of simple domesticity.

Hummelo-1999-Piet Oudolf-dog

Piet graciously posed for my camera at a picnic table in a little enclosed garden surrounded by spring-flowering shrubs.

Hummelo-1999-Piet Oudolf

Then we said farewell and headed off to the nearby garden of Eugénie van Weede at Huis Bingerden, below.  At the time of our visit, Eugénie been holding her International Specialist Nursery Days, a 3-day June plant fair attracting thousands of visitors, for four years. (In 2016, there were 37 exhibitors.)  In turn, her inspiration came from Piet and Anja Oudolf, who had held their own annual Hummelo Open Days (later Grass Days) beginning in 1983. By the mid-1990s, visitors numbered in the thousands. Wrote Piet in his rich memoir Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life, by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury (The Monacelli Press, 2015): “Our idea was to bring people together. Of course we wanted to create some income, but thought it would also be a good idea to bring a selection of growers who share the same interest in plants, as an advertisement for all of us.”   It was Piet Oudolf, seedman Rob Leopold and Piet’s original partner, nurseryman Romke van de Kaa (formerly Christopher Lloyd’s head gardener in the 1970s) — the men she calls her three ‘godfathers’ — who advised Eugénie on the nurseries she should include in her Nursery Days.Eugenie van Weede-1999-Bingerden

Fast-forward 15 years to a lovely day in August 2014, and there I was photographing the Piet Oudolf-designed entry border at my own local Toronto Botanical Garden, as I’ve been doing regularly for more than a decade. Even though I recall my visit to Hummelo with pleasure, my relationship with the entry border feels less like a connection to the Netherlands than an arrow that points right back to my childhood.  A childhood spent in a meadow.

Janet Davis-Toronto Botanical Garden

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You Can Take the Child Out of the Meadow….

How does one become a meadow maker?  Perhaps it might happen through sheer neglect: abandoning a plot of land to flowering weeds and long grasses which, through a stretch of imagination, might eventually approximate a reasonably attractive community of plants. Though leaving meadow-making to serendipity rarely achieves satisfactory results, it was nevertheless a meadow of happenstance that became my first intimate connection with nature and, by extension, with gardening. For it was an old field across the road from my childhood home in Victoria, B.C., the one just behind the trees at left that you can’t make out in this photo….

Janet Davis-child-Victoria BC

….  that taught me how Spanish bluebells and English daisies emerged in spring as grasses turn green; how California poppies preferred the stony ground to the rich, damp soil where western buttercups grew, the ones we held under our chins to see who liked butter best.

Ranunculus occidentalis-Western buttercup

Oxeye daisies and horsetails, bindweed, tansy and purple clover: these were the meadow weeds I came to love. As little as I was, I felt at home in that chaotic wildness, the old field that promised adventure – even the spittle-bugs that brushed our cheeks as we crawled through the grasses on all fours playing hide-and-seek.

If, as landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy contends in her 1995 classic The Inward Garden, the joyful, treasured places of our childhood become the environments we yearn for as adults, my Victoria field was the idyll I tried to recreate a half-century later in the wild front garden of our Toronto home, below, …..

Janet-Davis-Toronto front garden

….. and in the meadows of our cottage at Lake Muskoka….

Janet Davis-East Meadow- Lake Muskoka

….. where bees and butterflies and birds are welcomed.

Janet-Davis-West Meadow-Lake Muskoka

But meadow-making, for me, though it became somewhat more ‘designed’ and much more interesting than conventional gardening, never approached an art form. It was more about capturing a little corner of ‘wildness’ outside my door. Making a meadow that appears to be wild but is ‘enhanced nature’, that relies on deep knowledge for its plant palette and a wealth of experiment for its dynamic combinations: that is the work of a master. And that is how Piet Oudolf came to design the entry border at the Toronto Botanical Garden (TBG).

But first, let’s back up a little to 2006.

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Toronto Botanical Garden

In the early 2000’s, when Toronto’s Civic Garden Centre was being transformed from a small, horticulture-related institution to the Toronto Botanical Garden (TBG), a series of 17 themed gardens were designed to skirt around the new LEED building and extend out into the modest 4-acre property. . (You can see my seasonal galleries of all these gardens on the TBG’s website). Landscape architects for some of the gardens included PMA Landscape Architects Ltd. and Sparling Landscape Architects. For the prominent entry walk along the entrance driveway and the long south wall of the building, funding was provided by the Garden Club of Toronto to commission Toronto landscape architect Martin Wade of MWLA, below left, and Piet Oudolf, right, to collaborate on the hardscape and plant design.   Construction-Piet Oudolf & Martin Wade-Toronto Botanical Garden

Garden club member Nancy Laurie (who provided these photographs of the planting) was intimately involved with the beginning of the garden. As she recalls: “The club was asked to design and install a perennial garden that welcomed visitors into a botanical garden. The parameters of the garden area were predetermined by the TBG and the space was limited in height and width variations. It was surrounded by two parking lots, sidewalks and a building.  It would most likely be viewed first by many from inside a moving car. In addition, the other gardens that would eventually make up the new Toronto Botanical Gardens would be of a more formal design. This garden had to stand out from the others. Be different. Announce this is as an avant botanical garden.  Martin Wade proposed including the internationally acclaimed perennial designer Piet Oudolf to join the project as a consultant specifically for the planting design and selection of plants using his much admired naturalistic interpretation of a traditional perennial border garden.”

Apart from having read some of Piet’s books on plant design and hearing him speak at conferences, Nancy had also helped organize several two-day symposiums on the theme of the natural garden. “So I was personally very keen to make this ‘new’ garden paradigm a key element in our new entrance garden,” she recalls. “The garden world of the 1990’s and early 2000’s was embracing a more modern approach to the traditional formal English-style perennial garden. Piet Oudolf’s alternative style is characterized by naturalistic plantings, both in techniques and style, and using plant material that suited the terrain, climate and growing conditions already present in the site. He was recognized at the time as the master of the ‘new perspective of planting’ to paraphrase the title of one of his books. He was ‘The Man’.”

The plant design was complete and ready for reference.

Construction-Toronto Botanical Garden Entry Border Plan

With the hardscaping and rough grading having been done earlier that spring, the garden was ready for planting. But first there were some preliminary steps. The garden was divided into precise grids….

Martin Wade-Entry Border-Toronto Botanical Garden.JPG

………which would facilitate transference of the design outlines onto the ground.

Constructon-Toronto Botanical Garden-Piet Oudolf Checking Grid.J

Once the grid was finished, the outline of the plant groupings themselves was sprayed onto the surface of the soil with a non-toxic paint…..

Construction-Toronto Botanical Garden-spraying grid

…..like a plant-by-number guide.

Construction-Planting Grid-Piet Oudolf-Toronto Botanical Garden

The Garden Club had teams of planting volunteers ready and they listened to words of wisdom from Piet before starting.  Says Nancy Laurie: “The committee gained enormous experience working through this project. At its completion, I prepared a process paper on how to organize and use volunteers to help install a large garden project under the leadership of a landscape architect. Martin Wade used the suggestions to direct the volunteers at his installation of several new gardens at the Royal Botanical Garden the following year.

Construction-Piet-&-Garden-

Then it was out into the garden. Most of the plants were Heritage Perennials from the Ontario division of Valleybrook Gardens.

Construction-Entry Border-Piet Oudolf & Garden Club Members-Toronto Botanical Garden

As Nancy recalls: “Martin Wade managed the process of planting the garden with the help of Garden Club volunteers. Piet was on site for the first planting day to offer suggestions and help. He conferred with Martin and often stepped into the garden with the volunteers to show them how to properly plant a specific variety.”

Piet Oudolf Placing Plants-Toronto Botanical Garden

Nancy Laurie still recalls Piet’s planting lessons from that day.

  • When ready to plant, start at one end of the garden and move backwards so that the soil does not get compacted with foot traffic. Use planks of wood to walk on especially if the soil is wet so it does not compact.
  • Working in one grid area, dig all of the holes for one plant variety.
  • Loosen the soil around the planting hole several inches larger than the plant root system. Step back and look to see if the planting area is what it looks like on the plan. Adjust if needed before actually installing the plants.

Planted area-Oudolf entry garden-Toronto Botanical Garden

The entry walk was transformed that June into a fluttering, buzzing, verdant place of great beauty, different in all seasons, and indeed different from year to year, as the plants intermingled, possibly even more than their designer intended, and a few disappeared eventually, to be replaced by others. Let’s take a look at a small area, just in front of the glass screen dividing the border from the Floral Hall courtyard just to the north. Here it is on Piet’s plan.

Design-Piet Oudolf-Screen-Toronto Botanical Garden

Here’s the area as it looked in early spring 2006, with its new espaliered ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapples and coppery paperbark maples (Acer griseum).

Design-Piet Oudolf Screen1-April-Toronto Botanical Garden

Now look at it in May 2012, below. Seasonal spring bulbs are part of the changing display in the garden and, when carefully planted, they don’t affect the emergence of the perennials in Piet’s design.

Design-Piet Oudolf Screen2-May-Toronto Botanical Garden

Here it is in June 2011 with the Geranium psilostemon and Astrantia ‘Roma’ flowering amidst the lush green foliage of Deschampsia caespitosa.

Design-Piet Oudolf Screen4-June-Toronto Botanical Garden

I captured this autumn scene in October 2009, with the Deschampsia in flower and toad lilies (Tricyrtis formosa ‘Samurai’) blooming at left.

Design-Piet Oudolf Screen5-October-Toronto Botanical Garden

The genius of the entry garden, for me, especially in the early years when the perennials had not yet seeded about and intermingled, was that it transformed itself through the seasons — especially evident with the ornamental grasses.

Piet Oudolf entry border-seasonal views-Toronto Botanical Garden

Here’s my video of more of the seasonal changes in various parts of the garden.

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Before I move on to more seasonal scenes from the garden, I’d like to acknowledge the hard work of head gardener Sandra Pella, her assistant gardeners and TBG horticulturist Paul Zammit, who oversee the demanding maintenance of the entry garden on a shoestring budget, and with great enthusiasm.

I was there to photograph it each spring….

Seasonal 1c-Spring-Piet Oudolf Entry Garden-Toronto Botanical Garden

……when the brilliance of the tulips, daffodils and small bulbs was especially welcome after the long winter we have in Toronto.

Seasonal 1a-Spring-Piet Oudolf Entry Garden-Toronto Botanical Garden

Families of donors to the garden help to plant new bulbs each autumn, changing the show annually.  The emerging perennials are unaffected by the bulbs growing in their midst.

Seasonal-1d-Spring-Piet-Oud

Late spring featured the big, purple heads of alliums…..

Seasonal 2d-Late spring-Alliums & Hosta 'Blue Angel'-Piet Oudolf entry border-Toronto Botanical Garden

…… and lush peonies like ‘Krinkled White’, here with willow-leaf bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia)…..

Seasonal 2a-Late spring-Paeonia 'Krinkled White' & Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden

….. and ‘Bowl of Beauty’, with mauve Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’, left and the white form of the mourning widow geranium (G. phaeum f. album) behind …..

Seasonal 2b-Late spring-Paeonia 'Bowl of Beauty'-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden.

…. and stunning red ‘Buckeye Belle’ with Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ in the background.

Seasonal 2c-Late spring-Paeonia 'Buckeye Belle' & Salvia-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden.

But the summer months are when the Oudolf garden hits its stride, as the lush, ornamental grasses begin to fountain around the stems of the flowering perennials.  In early summer, deep-red Knautia macedonica pops out like dots in a pointillist painting.

Seasonal 3a-early summer-Piet Oudolf entry border-Toronto Botanical Garden

I love knautia for its long flowering season and its attractiveness to all kinds of bees.

Knautia macedonica with bumble bee-bombus-Piet Oudolf border

Here are three Oudolf favourites:  from rear, mauve ‘Fascination’ Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum), ‘Blue Fortune’ anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and the lime-green, needled leaves of Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii), half-way between its pale-blue spring flowers and brilliant gold fall colour.

Seasonal 3b-early summer Piet Oudolf entry border-Veronicastrum virginicum 'Fascination'-Agastache 'Blue Fortune'-TBG

A little later comes the beautiful echinacea show, here with the salmon daylily Hemerocallis ‘Pardon Me’ and ‘Veitch’s Blue’ globe thistle (Echinops ritro), which is…..

Seasonal 4a-midsummer-Piet-Oudolf-des

….. another exceptional bee plant.

Bees on Echinops ritro 'Veitch's Blue'

August is my favourite time in the garden, as the grasses reach their stately heights and the late-season perennials flower.  Here’s a little vignette of what you see as you do the entry walk in early-mid August:  violet spikes of blazing star (Liatris spicata); creamy-white rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium); the lush, burgundy flowers of the various Joe Pye weeds (Eutrochium sp.); the small, dark-red wands of burnet(Sanguisorba sp.); and echinaceas.

Seasonal 4b-late summer-Piet Oudolf-designed entry border-Toronto Botanical Garden-Summer

Below we have the self-seeding annual Verbena bonariensis, left, leadplant (Amorpha canescens) past its flowering, centre, and red-spiked ‘Firetail’ persicaria (P. amplexicaulis) at right.

Seasonal 4c-Piet-Oudolf-des

By October, the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) on the stone wall of the Raymond Moriyama-designed Flower Hall has turned bright red and the seedheads and fall colour of the big grasses in the Oudolf border take centre stage, along with a few asters and goldenrods that have sneaked into the border from other parts of the botanical garden.

Seasonal 5a-Autumn-Symphyot

One year, aromatic aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’, below, native to the central and eastern United States, looked stunning punctuated with echinacea seedheads.  But this lovely aster, used by Piet at Lurie Garden in Chicago, seems to have diminished in subsequent years, part of the inevitable reality of plant experimentation, something to which Piet Oudolf has paid great attention over the decades.

Seasonal 5b-Autumn-Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'October Skies'

Perennial seedheads are an important part of the seasonal show in the garden; these are the mocha-brown October seedheads of the yarrow Achillea millefolium ‘Walther Funcke’, with silvery Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Little Spire’ at right and bronze Astilbe ‘Purpurlanze’ in the background.

Seasonal 5c-Autumn-Ct

And provided that repeated heavy, wet snowfalls do not knock down the plants and ruin the show, the entry garden demonstrates the beauty of the persistent seedheads and stems throughout winter.  The grass at left is Korean feather grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha).

Seasonal 6-Piet Oudolf-designed entry border-Toronto Botanical Garden-Winter

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Plants and Memories

Many of the plants in the entry garden are part of Piet Oudolf’s personal history: breeding successes of the German or Dutch plantsmen who were part of his circle – and horticultural education – since the beginning of his design career and life in Hummelo.  People like Ernst Pagels (1913-2007), of Leer, himself a student of Karl Foerster, the iconic nurseryman who sheltered Jews in his nursery during the Second World War and whose name is memorialized in a well-known feather reed grass (Calamagrosis x acutiflora). As explained in Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life, in the 1980s Piet Oudolf travelled often across the border into Germany to visit Pagels at his nursery where they would talk plants. “We went to get the newest plants, and to bring them home…. and we exchanged a lot.”   Among the Ernst Pagels jewels that live in the TBG’s entry garden are Achillea ‘Walther Funcke’….

Pagels-Achillea 'Walther Funcke'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

…. Astilbe chinensis var. tacquetii ‘Purpurlanze’ and Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ …..

Pagels-Astilbe chinensis var. tacquetii 'Purpurlanze' & Stachys officinalis 'Hummelo'

…. Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’……

Pagels-Phlomis tuberosa 'Amazone'-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden

…. and Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’, shown here with Allium cristophii.

Pagels-Salvia 'Amethyst'-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Piet’s Dutch friend and fellow plantsman Coen Jansen is responsible for the tall meadowrue Thalictrum ‘Elin’.

Coen Jansen-Thalictrum 'Elin'

And his German colleague Cassian Schmidt, director of the famous garden at Hermannshof, (thanks Tony Spencer for that great blog entry) has his own name memorialized in the beautiful, Kurt Bluemel-raised fountain grass Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Cassian’, shown here with the statice Limonium latifolium…..

Cassian Schmidt-Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Cassian' & Limonium latifolium-Toronto Botanical Garden

As for Piet Oudolf himself, long before he designed the planting of the TBG’s entry border, he was selecting his own plants and registering them. In 1998, the year before I visited him at Hummelo, he joined with two other growers to launch their company Future Plants, “to market their introductions and to protect their work through Plant Breeder’s Rights.”  As explained in Hummelo: A Journey…, these plants were often put into production in the U.S. before Dutch nurseries had started to raise them.  Among the Piet Oudolf-propagated plants in the entry garden are the pale-mauve hybrid monkshood Aconitum ‘Stainless Steel’….

Piet Oudolf introduction-Aconitum 'Stainless Steel'

……. Astrantia major ‘Roma’…..

Piet Oudolf introduction-Astrantia-major 'Roma'

….. Echinacea purpurea ‘Vintage Wine’, with its lovely dark stems….

Piet Oudolf introduction-Echnacea purpurea 'Vintage Wine'-Toronto Botanical Garden

….. Monarda ‘Scorpion’…..

Piet Oudolf Introduction-Monarda 'Scorpion'-1

….. Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Little Spire’, a compact Russian sage shown below with Calamintha nepeta (a fabulous bee combo!)…..

Piet Oudolf introduction-Perovskia 'Little Spire' with Calamintha nepeta

….. Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firedance’…..

Piet Oudolf- Introduction-Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firedance'

….. Salvia ‘Madeline’…..

Piet Oudolf Introduction-Salvia 'Madeline'

….. Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’ (this photo with Achillea ‘Anthea’ was made at the Royal Botanical Garden in Burlington, near Toronto) …..

Piet Oudolf introduction-Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain'

….. Veronica ‘Eveline’, here with Deschampsia caespitosa…….

Piet Oudolf Introduction-Veronica 'Eveline'

….  …. and finally the spectacular Culver’s root Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’, given its tongue-in-cheek name by Piet Oudolf because of its genetic tendency to ‘fasciation’, a flattening of the flower spike.

Piet Oudolf introduction-Veronicastrum virginicum 'Fascination'

That concludes the first part of my two-part blog on the entry garden at the Toronto Botanical Garden. In Part Two, I drill down into Piet Oudolf’s garden plan to show you some terrific plant combinations, and some of my favourite plants and why.

PS – if you’re a fan of New York’s High Line, I have photographed the Oudolf plantings there in three seasons, and blogged about a few of those visits as well. Here’s the High Line in early May and a two-part blog on the High Line in mid-June.

This summer, I’m looking forward to visiting Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

A Visit (or Two) to New York Botanical Garden

World-class is an overused term, but it is not an exaggeration when describing what I consider to be the finest public garden in the United States: New York Botanical Garden.  In my two decades of visiting NYBG, I have seen it change its focus somewhat to become more ecologically attuned, as befits any modern botanical garden, but it has not lost its charm no matter what the season. And 2016 marks its 125th anniversary, a milestone to celebrate. So let’s celebrate with a photo  tour of some of the gardens on its 250 acres (100 hectares). Whenever I visit (via the Metro North Railroad from Grand Central Station, Botanical Garden stop), I head immediately to the Seasonal Border, designed by Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf.  When i visited this August, I noticed a new sign dedicating the garden to Marjorie G. Rosen, who chairs the Horticulture Committee and is Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors.

NYBG-Seasonal Border-August 2016

I love this border in all seasonal guises, for its inspiration for those thinking about making a naturalistic meadow-style planting. Here it is, below, in July 2011 with ‘Green Jewel’ coneflowers (Echinacea) front and centre.

NYBG-Seasonal Border-July 2011

I was especially fond of this combination of Lilium henryi and Scutellaria incana.

NYBG-Seasonal Border-Lilium henry & Scutellaria incana

This is how it looked in spring 2012. The bulb plantings were designed by Jacqueline van der Kloet.

NYBG-Seasonal Border-Spring 2012

They’ve even gone to the trouble of making a sign showing Piet Oudolf’s hand-painted plan for the garden.

NYBG-Piet Oudolf Seasonal Border Plan

It’s a short walk from the Seasonal Border to the Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden. This is what it looked like in August.

NYBG-Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden-August 2016

I loved these combinations: Colocasia esculenta ‘Blue Hawaii’ with zingy Gomphrena globosa ‘Strawberry Fields’….

NYBG-Salvia-Gomphrena-Colocasia-Perennial Garden

… and a more romantic look with Salvia guaranitica and a lovely pink rose.

NYBG-Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden-Rose & Salvia guaranitica

I spent a lot of time watching butterflies and bees nectaring on Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’, a late summer mainstay at NYBG.

NYBG-Black Swallowtail on Phlox paniculata 'Jeana'

This garden also offers lots of design ideas, whether you visit in spring (this was 2012)….

NYBG-Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden-Spring

…. or summer (2011).  If you sit on this bench with that gorgeous lily within sniff range, you’ll understand why designers recommend planting perfumed plants where you’re going to be walking or sitting.

NYBG-Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden-July 2011

I love the use of gold/chartreuse foliage in this part of the perennial garden.

NYBG-Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden-Chartreuse

The Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden and the adjacent Ladies’ Border were designed by New York’s champion of public gardens, the venerable Lynden Miller, below, right. When I was there in 2012, she and NYBG’s vice-president of outdoor gardens, Kristin Schleiter…..

NYBG- Kristin Schleiter & Lynden Miller-Spring 2012

…. conducted a tour of NYBG’s then brand-new Azalea Garden, below, with azalaes and rhododendrons arranged throughout the garden’s natural rock outcrops and underplanted with natives like white foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). If you visit in late April or  May, this part of the garden is a must-see!

NYBG-Azaleas & Tiarella

I loved this spectacular pink cloud of azaleas!

NYBG-Azalea Garden

Speaking of spring, it was sometime in the late 1990s when I visited New York in Japanese cherry season. At NYBG, that means a stroll to Cherry Hill, where you’ll see pink and white clouds of beautiful “sakura” trees.  And there’s a daffodil festival bolstered this spring by a huge planting commemorating the 125th birthday.

NYBG-Cherry Hill

But back to the perennial garden area. Adjoining it is the Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden, a formal knot garden.  This year, the parterres were filled wtih artichokes….

NYBG-Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden-2016

…. but a few years ago, there was a charming planting of clary sage (Salvia horminum).

NYBG-Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden-2014

The perennial garden also sits in the shadow of the spectacular and historic Enid Haupt Conservatory.

NYBG-Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden-Sign

Here is how that magnificent dome looks from the perennial garden.

NYBG-Enid Haupt Conservatory Dome

I always make a point of visiting the conservatory in order to see the season’s themed show, as designed by Francisca Coelho (they run from mid-May to mid-September). This year, it was all about American Impressionism, and the long gallery in the conservatory featured plants that represented that art movement, such as Celia Thaxter’s Garden.  Here’s what it looked like from the entrance….

NYBG-Impressionist Garden Plants 2016-Francisca Coelho design (2)

…. and from the far end of the gallery.

NYBG-Impressionist Garden Plants 2016-Francisca Coelho design (1)

I loved the 2014 show, which was titled “Groundbreakers: Great American Gardens and the Women Who Designed Them”. The conservatory show was titled ‘Mrs. Rockefeller’s Garden’, and was a nod to Eyrie, the Maine garden designed for Abby Aldrich Rockefeller in 1926 by Beatrix Farrand.

NYBG-2014-Mrs Rockefeller's Garden

 

But my favourite was 2008’s “Charles Darwin’s Garden”.

NYBG-Darwins Garden1-2008

They even created a little study for him, complete with desk and rocking chair.

NYBG-Darwins Study-2008

Adjoining glasshouses contain stunning displays of tropicals…..

NYBG-Tropicals

…..and another has cacti and succulents.

NYBG-Desert-Garden

Behind the conservatory is the wonderful courtyard pool.

Lotus-pool-NYBG

Here you see sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)….

NYBG-Nelumbo nucifera

…sometimes with resting dragonflies….

NYBG-Dragonfly

…and luscious waterlilies, like Nymphaea ‘Pink Grapefruit’, below.

NYBG-Nymphaea 'Pink Grapefruit'

Walking through the garden (or you can take a tram), you’ll come to one of my new favourite places: the Native Plant Garden.  On August 16th, despite the lack of rain in the northeast this summer, the meadow portion was a symphony of prairie grasses, goldenrods and flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), among other late season plants….

NYBG-Native Plant Garden-Outcrop

….. and buzzing with pollinators, as promised in the interpretive signage for the garden.

NYBG-Native Plants-Signage

Have you ever seen a glacial erratic? This is what happened in this very spot when the glaciers retreated from Manhattan thousands of years ago, leaving this massive boulder behind. Geologists identify these behemoths as erratics when they do not fit the mineral profile of the underlying rocks.

NYBG-Glacial Erratic-Native Plant Garden

The meadows are beautiful, but the new native wetland is also a revelation. Imagine, coming down this boardwalk…..

NYBG-Native Plant Wetland

….. and looking over the edge to see a huge collection of carnivorous pitcher plants (Sarracenia species and hybrids), along with orchids.

NYBG-Carnivorous-Plants

Keep walking and you’ll find a bench where you can contemplate the waterfall.

NYBG-Wetland-Lobelia cardinalis

All around you are native plants that are fond of damp conditions, including cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis).

NYBG-Native Plant Garden-Cardinal Flower & Ironweed

We’re not finished touring, so rest your legs until you’re ready to cast a glance over the rosy cloud of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium) before heading back up the slope to the meadows.

NYBG-Wetland-Joe Pye Weed

Keep walking – you’re almost at the best place in New York to see roses: the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. In June, there’s even a festival – and it’s worth the extra cost to add it to your general admission.

NYBG-Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden

There are many other gardens, of course, including deep botanical collections of trees and shrubs. I usually pay a short visit to the Louise Loeb Vegetable Garden.

NYBG-Louise Loeb Vegetable Garden

And I sometimes pop by the Pauline Gillespie Plant Trials Garden to see how the new plants are faring.

NYBG-Pauline Gillespie Gosset Plant Trials Garden

But I never visit New York without making my way to the front gate of the New York Botanical Garden!  Happy 125th birthday, NYBG. Still humming along after all these years!

NYBG-Hummingbird-Ladies' Border