Thursday, April 25, 2013

Naturalistic Gardening

I recently had an opportunity to visit an amazing place in Scotland Neck, North Carolina called Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park, "...the worlds largest collection of waterfowl." They had a large deck overlooking a low wetland area pictured above. I was taken by the beauty of it and thought about what it was that so pleased me. First the wetland is a defined space as an opening in the woodland. Secondly the stream makes a distinctive sinuous line  through the space. But of most interest to me was the manner in which the herbaceous plants distributed themselves. Sweeps, clumps, masses, textural contrasts, color variations all played into my fascination. I have been experimenting with naturalistic plantings in my garden, and I use these sorts of plant communities as inspiration. I have found it to be a very difficult task, so I was interested to read recently an article by George Schoellkopf who created a highly regarded garden at his home called Hollister House. He says, "The trouble is that the absence of formal structure does not automatically result in a convincingly natural garden." "A successful naturalistic garden is designed so that we are not aware of its structure because the plants themselves provide most of the structure. This sort of design demands a high degree of talent and effort." He goes on to explain his preference for formality in garden design and concludes by saying, "It's actually an aesthetic that is more attainable."

Every day that I work with what I call my "meadow garden" (see below) I come to appreciate the utility of figuratively hanging my plants (in other gardens) onto formal structural elements.

As I review the above photograph I am reminded that the blue Siberian iris and the red oriental poppy gradually faded away over a number of years under the competitive pressure of  the surrounding and naturally introduced plants. I also notice that the placement of the plants is very suggestive of the hand of man and lack the natural beauty of the wetland image at the top of this page. Where I have had the most success with the naturalistic aesthetic is where only one or two elements of the garden are permitted to naturalize such as biennials like Verbascum or Myosotis. They distribute themselves in very aesthetically pleasing ways within the context of a garden in a formal context.