Category Archives: Design

Oudolf at Pensthorpe

September 16th, 2018 | 10 Comments »

Over the last half dozen years or so,  I’ve visited several gardens in England designed by the Dutch plantsman, Piet Oudolf. These include Bury Court in Hampshire, Scampston Hall’s Walled Garden in Yorkshire and Hauser & Wirth in Somerset. Because I’ve seen and enjoyed these gardens, I was eager to see Oudolf’s Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe Natural Park in Norfolk.

(A review of Scampston Hall’s Walled Garden is here.)

Pensthorpe was Oudolf’s first commission in the U.K. Planted in 2000 and up-dated in 2008, the Millennium Garden is part of a larger natural reserve. Built on the site of former gravel quarries that left behind a patchwork of lakes, the watery location is designed to attract migrating and resident birds and to encourage families to  understand and enjoy nature.

 

P1020716

 

Since the most recent work in the Millennium Garden is now ten years old, I was eager to see how — or if — Oudolf’s approach to planting had changed from what I’d seen at other gardens in England. Would the early date and the location make a difference in the plantings, and if so, in what ways?

One difference was obvious as soon as I entered the area. A natural element — birch trees growing close together — marked the entry rather than a gate in a wall or a door into a courtyard.   

 

P1020720

 

But this was far from the only difference.

At Bury Court, Scamspston and Hauser & Wirth, you look at the plants. You observe their particularities — their colours, textures and growing habits. At Pensthorpe you are engaged with the plants, almost swallowed by them.

 

Persicaria

 

The contrasts in colour and texture that you see at Bury Court, Scampston Hall and Hauser & Wirth are present at Pensthorpe, but added to these elements are the sounds of nature — birds calling, wind soughing through the trees.

 

The flowers on these Eupatorium purpureum were larger than any I've ever seen.
The flowers on these Eupatorium purpureum were larger than any I’ve ever seen.

 

Topography is also a factor. The other three gardens that Oudolf has designed in England are on flat land. At Pensthorpe, the land slopes down to a small lake, one of many that dot the nature reserve.

 

P1020733

 

Because of this difference in topography, I found Pensthorpe much more immersive than the gardens at Bury Court, Scampston or Hauser & Wirth.  Walking along a path that meandered down the slope, I sometimes felt like a giant Alice in Wonderland, looking down on the plants, and sometimes like a tiny Alice, with plants towering above me.

 

P1020723

 

I was aware, too, of the blocky nature of the planting scheme. In my memory, the plants at Hauser & Wirth intermingle. One block of plants oversteps its boundary and drifts into the block next door.  What I saw at Pensthorpe were big areas that contained a single plant, with each area or block an entity unto itself.

 

P1020753

 

What struck me most strongly, though, was how undesigned this garden felt in comparison to the others. This is not to suggest that Oudolf threw out seeds and plants willy-nilly. Far from it. But the overall atmosphere of the Millennium Garden is natural, as if all these plants just happened to be where they are.

Not so at  Hauser & Wirth where the circles of grass that are such a distinctive feature bring design to the fore. The same is true in the Walled Garden at Scampston Hall — a garden that I like very much. The five acres there are divided into nine garden rooms, each with its own character. There is a reflecting pond, a mount, semi-traditional borders and a circle where miscanthus explodes like fireworks. But most memorable for me are the curving drifts of Molinia, separated by curving strips of lawn, that Oudolf planted in one garden room, and the hedges that mimic that curving line in another.

At Pensthorpe, befitting a natural reserve, things are simpler. Plants are the focus. Big, blocky, glorious plants that rejoice in their autumnal colours.

 

P1020755

 

This is the first time I’ve seen one of Oudolf’s English gardens in the autumn, when the seed heads that are so important to him are prominent features. Seeing them, I think of the opportunities that were wasted for so many years, when seed heads were chopped off as soon as the flowers faded.

 

P1020746

 

Near the Millennium Garden, a children’s play area offers a fine contrast, as does the Corten Infinity Garden that follows, where a fence seems to open and close as you walked past. Neither was designed by Oudolf but both seemed to partake of his innovative spirit.

 

P1020760

 

Pensthorpe would be a great place to spend the day, with children or grandchildren, or simply on your own. I’d be happy to return.

 

 

Petworth: a Landscape by Capability Brown

September 9th, 2018 | 18 Comments »
P1020541
On a sunny day, what could be more agreeable than strolling through a landscape designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown? Earlier this week, two friends and I took advantage of the fine weather to do just this when we visited Petworth House in Sussex. The landscape there is one of the finest surviving examples of Brown's work. Walking through the 700-acre park, the surroundings appear to be totally natural, but in reality Brown shaped each part of the land with his customary flair.   [caption id="attachment_6709" align="aligncenter" width="4272"] This view from the

Read More...

Nine Bridges, to Where?

August 30th, 2018 | 13 Comments »
The cedar will turn grey over the winter.
Last week we added two new bridges on the Timelines trail. They aren't large constructions but both allow us to keep our feet dry. The first bridge, near the end of the avenue of crabapple trees, avoids the ditch at the end of a culvert that goes underneath a road that connects our village of North Hatley to the neighbouring village of Sainte-Catherine-de-Hatley -- formerly known as Katevale.   [caption id="attachment_6611" align="aligncenter" width="4272"] Over time we've made this ditch deeper and wider by driving through it in a small all-wheel vehicle.[/caption]   The

Read More...

The Skating Pond, August 2018

August 19th, 2018 | 16 Comments »
A side view of the new bench shows how simple it is -- two rocks and two planks.
Sometimes small changes make a huge difference, or as I wrote last fall, Little Things Mean a Lot.  I was writing then about some small changes I'd made at the Skating Pond at Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec. Later in the fall, after I wrote about the changes, I made one more. I added a bench.   [caption id="attachment_6599" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] The slate under the bench was left over from a previous project.[/caption]   My sister immediately said the bench looked wrong -- and she was right.   [caption id="attachment_6600" align="aligncenter"

Read More...

A Victorian Garden

June 17th, 2018 | 15 Comments »
Baptisia is growing in my garden. Seeing this combo makes me want to add some orange poppies.
Yesterday I spoke at the Colby-Curtis Museum in Stanstead, Quebec, home to the Stanstead Historical Society. The museum is a local treasure, housed in a classical revival-style villa built in 1859 called Carrollcroft.   [caption id="attachment_6429" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] The house, its gardens and adjacent stable and carriage house, tell the story of the Colby family, a prominent local family of American origin. The family donated the house and its contents to the Stanstead Historical Society in 1992. Exhibitions provide insight into the social and cultural history of the county which borders Vermont.[/caption]   The current

Read More...

Crabapples in Bloom!

June 4th, 2018 | 20 Comments »
May 24, 2018
In just over a year, the Crabapple Allée, aka the Avenue, has gone from dream to dirt, to bloom and gone. We started with this, a dull bare field.   [caption id="attachment_6400" align="aligncenter" width="4272"] I took this photo on April 24, 2017, when I became serious about planting a long allée of trees,. The walk through the trees is part of a larger project I'm still working on.[/caption]   Four months later, The Avenue was beginning to take shape.   [caption id="attachment_6399" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] August 8, 2017[/caption]   By mid-November, the

Read More...

Terracing the China Terrace

May 29th, 2018 | 15 Comments »
terraces (1 of 1)
One of the first projects I undertook at Glen Villa was the China Terrace, a contemporary folly that honours an old resort hotel that once stood on the property. I first wrote about it as a conceptual garden. Following that, I wrote about it sporadically, focusing on the changes I made --  the bed that shook off its annuals in favour of a moss quilt,   [caption id="attachment_1565" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Moss forms a quilt on an old iron frame bed.[/caption]   and the staircase leading to the imaginary second and third story that changed, from

Read More...

The Way to Go, or Not to Go

May 15th, 2018 | 18 Comments »
The Grotto of the Deluge marks the division between primitive life and the beginning of civilization.
  One of the decisions I have to make when groups visit Glen Villa is which way to go. Shall I to lead the group around the garden this way or that? In some gardens the choice is made for you. There is a set route that the garden maker or garden owner wants you to take. Or that the government authority in charge has dictated. This is the case at Villa Lante, the Renaissance garden built for Cardinal Gamberaia and now owned by the government of Italy. The Cardinal's garden used water to

Read More...

Pining Away

May 4th, 2018 | 16 Comments »
I'm guessing that the big pine was about 150 years old.
A few weeks ago I posted the photo below on Facebook and asked for ideas about what to do with the trunk of an enormous pine tree that had pined away.   [caption id="attachment_6219" align="aligncenter" width="5184"] The pine tree was about 150 years old.[/caption]   Many people responded: make it into a table, or benches, a totem, planters, bird houses or toothpicks (hard to imagine how many of those there would be!), an art display: Twenty Ways to Commemorate a Fallen Pine. (Thanks, Janet. I loved that idea.) But that's

Read More...

As the Garden Turns

April 22nd, 2018 | 12 Comments »
This garden in the Eastern Townships has a splendid view out over the countryside.
Does your garden turn its face to the world or does it veil it off?  The difference says a lot, about you and the style of your garden -- and about the spirit of the times. Recently I spoke to several groups about how to get the most out of garden visits.  Learning to Look: the Art of Garden Observation considers what it takes to really see a garden. A handout for the talk asks some key questions, starting with the garden's context.  How does it relate to the world around it? Is it open to its surroundings or closed off? Topography

Read More...