Is there anything better in this world than opening a book and falling into — and in love with — another world? I could go on at great length about this book — Herterton House and a New Country Garden — since I took about 4 pages of notes. Suffice it to say that it is a rapturous read if you love all the details of English country life, the work of bringing a long-abandoned 17th C. house back to life and every aspect of creating an outstanding garden.
Wonderful stories and characters abound and the photos of the house and garden are breathtaking, including those of the derelict property as it looked when Frank and Marjorie Lawley (below) moved into this National Trust site in the 1970s. Without the "before" images of both the buildings and the grounds it would be impossible to appreciate the feats of design and construction that this couple managed. While the Lawleys did much on their own they also teamed with an array of craftspeople whose work and personalities get equal billing in the book.
As an American I can only dream of creating a garden enclosed by walls that look as old as the house because they were often built using old stone found on the property, or bought or bartered as the years went by. Though Marjorie raised many plants from seeds and cuttings, early on they took advantage of a going-out-of-business sale at a 300-year-old nursery. The Lawleys came home with a treasure trove of plants including a 100-year-old "Harry Lauder's Walking Stick."
They opted to use many yellow-foliaged or yellow and white evergreens to "radiate heat" in the bare garden during the winter months, an idea that many of us cold climate gardeners might follow. As the image below shows, not every part of the garden was filled with flowers. Geometry and structure play a major role throught the property.
The Lawleys had enough room that they could grow on plants for the garden as well as for sale. They sold them wrapped in damp newsprint in plastic bags, the same way I usually package a plant for a friend. The book is graced with Frank Lawley's evocative — and often poetic — writing and Marjorie's detailed drawings and plant lists. As if their amazing gardening feats were not enough to bowl me over, the couple created an equally creative home as evidenced by pictures of them working away at needlepoint upholstery for their fireside chairs. No project inside or out was deemed too small or too large to be undertaken by this talented couple, and always with aesthetics as the first and the final consideration. I enjoyed every moment I spent with the Lawleys and think you will, too.
The staff at Olbrich Botanical Gardens always pulls out all the creative stops when it comes to their annual spring floral event. Of course, it's a real boost just to walk into a room filled with the scent and color of flowers in March in Wisconsin, but this year's display goes way beyond mere floral beauty. It is a clever, creative and utterly charming spring show. (Do double click to enlarge the pictures so you can enjoy the details.)
This year's theme of "Banquet of Blooms" is exemplified in a myriad of settings. The center of the room is designed for cooking with herbs and edible flowers in a kitchen complete with a vintage stove, sink, and cupboard full of cookbooks and tools. There are multiple locations for enjoying drinks and dinner in the garden as well as beautifully detailed recreations and imaginations of food made out of natural materials. This has to be one of the most labor-intensive spring shows the garden has done with hundreds of small-scale items created for decoration, dining and "eating" everywhere you look.
The addition of this Guy Wolff terra cotta rhubarb forcing pot from 2002 says to me that this display was created by gardeners who grow their own food and cook it! Such a telling detail.
The flowers and greenery are sometimes grouped in contrasting color arrangements and in others, the flowers flow in tones from pale peach to corals and pinks fading into lavender. This particular display of flowers took my breath away until I saw the table they encircled.
Note the silverware and the "flourless chocolate cake."
Below is the dreamy dinning table that won my heart. I think Olbrich should sell raffle tickets as a fund-raising benefit with the prize being the staff recreating this magical willow structure in the winner's garden.
This coming Sunday, March 26, is the last day to see Olbrich's Spring Flower Show. This is one you won't want to miss!
When you walk around it you discover it is their grandchildren's hideaway. Ken built a platform that is big enough for a group of little friends to sit in seclusion or for a few small people to stretch out and nap.
I love the fact that you can't tell that the tree has this special function until you walk around the far side of it.
When I came back to making free-standing journal pages a couple of years after the ones I blogged about yesterday, I found myself initially creating collages that had a rather obvious reference to me and to gardens and flowers.
The first two collages (below) began the same way: with pages clipped from a calendar that the Metropolitan Museum of Art used to sell. Reproductions of the museum's art came printed on square pages in a plexi frame. Below each was a white strip with info about the art. Halfway through the year you flipped the stack over to the next six months printed on the back sides. I saved untold numbers of these papers, including two images by 19th C. phototographers.
This brown collage (above) uses the Met calendar image: "Flower Study, Rose of Sharon," a circa 1854 albumen silver print from a glass negative by Adolphe Braun (French, 1811-77). The layout is driven by the fact that the image had that calendar info that had to be dealt with. The photo is from the days of photo booths in long-gone "5 and dime stores."
The black and white image (above) in this mini portrait series is "Heliophila," an 1839 photogenic drawing by William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800-77). As a gardener Heliophila was completely unknown to me, but it is a genus of flowering plants in the Brassicaceae family.
. . .
The rest of the work I did is much more straight collage art with no reference to the garden journals that were my starting point once upon a time. They were also free of any kind of message — or perhaps I should say "text," since each collage I made as I went along was more and more about letter forms, random images and a bit of mark making.
I only set myself one parameter: All the works had to be the same size to fit frames we already owned: 6 inches high x 5 inches wide.
Making these kept me engrossed for days as I spent hours moving bits of paper a fraction of an inch forward and back until I was satisfied. Perfect for a perfectionist like me.
I started adding more pattern and my own marks — both drawing and painting — as I went along.
The one above was so dense with lines and arrows and bits and bobs that I went in the opposite direction on the next collage. In fact it is really more mixed media work as there are only two things I pasted onto the surface of a piece from a shipping box that already had layers of tape and marks.
Though these artworks began as a continuation of my free-standing "journal pages," it's clear they wound up somewhere else. In the summer the garden is my art. In the winter, I always think I will draw or do fiber art, but I usually write and blog instead.
I began my career as an illustrator and graphic designer and moved into journalism along the way. Over almost 30 years of working at newspapers, writing became my dominant form of communication. Though I find making art of any kind very satisfying, I always put off doing it — but I never put off writing. I think the message is pretty clear.
Visitors to our garden always ask if we have traditional Japanese tea ceremonies in our Tea House. We still hope to do one some day, but the truth is that the Tea House functions for the most part as an art object; a gorgeous sculpture — albeit one that you can sit inside.
At this time of year we particularly try to take advantage of beautiful weather to enjoy sitting out there with afternoon coffee and cookies or cocktails. Tea of any kind is rarely on the menu.
With two doors and multiple windows, there are wonderful views in every direction all framed like camera shots.
Sometimes we just sit inside and surrender to the beauty of the structure and the fragrance of the cedar construction.
Other times we each bring something to read.
When we have a group of gardeners touring the garden, we always open the Tea House so they can see the interior and go inside if they wish to do so. But no shoes are allowed and we have a sign at each door noting that restriction.
We're finally having a break in our rainy weather and should be able to sit out there enjoying the sun and the changing autumn color for at least another month.
In addition to all the plants I've ordered (shipping for them starts in another month), I've been busy with other garden-related purchases. While I was searching on-line for information on species and woodland Peonies, I discovered something that this Peony gardener had to have: an umbrella to protect Peony flowers from potential damage from too much sun or its opposite, rain. Not sure if its cool or crazy but I couldn't resist it once I saw it. Sheer garden fantasy!
I found it at Cricket Hill Garden, a specialty plant nursery located in Connecticut. The offer Herbaceous, Intersectional and Tree Peonies as well as rare, older Tree Peonies for those who are willing to spend $300 to $600 on a rare plant. I will say they are gorgeous looking. Cricket Hill Garden also sells edible landscape plants like Pawpaws, Elderberries and Apples. In addition they sell scion wood for a number of the landscape plants for those who want to propagate their own at a greatly reduced price. They even sell viable Chinese Tree Peony seeds!
My species and woodland Peonies can all take a fair amount of sun; all except P. maculata ssp. kavachensis which has quickly faded early in the season. I planted it at the outer edge of a Pagoda Dogwood tree which has been losing branches, thus exposing the Peony to more light than it seems to want. I thought the umbrella would be a way to see if shade helps the plant and also to protect any of the Peony plants coming into its peak as a storm approaches.
The umbrella is made of bamboo and nylon. The Cricket Hill website says they use the umbrellas for about a month at Peony time, and then clean and store them for later use. I like them because they are plain and simple with no decoration. The bamboo pole is reinforced at the center point. Overall height is 5' 3" tall and is all one piece. The nylon umbrella has a diameter of 33 inches. The umbrella "webbing" is all hand-done like a work of art.
The whole thing came wrapped in brown paper and plastic with not a tear or dent. The umbrellas cost $45 each or 3/$99.00. Since I have about a dozen woodland and species Peonies I really wanted to buy three, but only got the one until I was sure what it looked like and how it was made. I am pleased with it and I can't wait to try it out!
Flower from one of my P. japonica plants.
Cricket Hill also sells Martin Page's superb book, "The Gardener's Peony," which covers absolutely everything you wanted to know about every kind of Peony. Even though my local library has it, I am thinking of buying a copy since I like the quirky Peonies that are hard to find and even harder to find information about them. Page has a whole chapter covering each and every one.
Photo of Peony parasols from Cricket Hill Garden website.