THE MODERN MINT BLOG

Jul01

James Van Sweden

This video is of Monty Don talking to the late garden designer James Van Sweden.

He was known, in partnership with Wolfgang Oehme, to have created the ‘New American Garden’ style – think tall grasses, great swathes of perennials and a wilder, more natural look.

Pretty much the opposite of how we think of American gardens, with their tightly mowed lawns that are weedkilled, fed and watered all summer long.

“Don’t put in three, put in 300… you have to think big. Think huge leaves, enormous grasses and flowers big as dinner plates. The worst thing you can do is be ditsy.”

We agree wholeheartedly with James Van Sweden’s philosophy here. Make a choice, be bold, go for it – that is the best action we can take in the garden. But what effect does that have on the landscape? We quote from a book by Christopher Bradley-Hole…

“They have established a unique and memorable formula which involves a strong underlying plan, overplanted in the most striking style.

The results resemble huge 20th century paintings set within a gigantic gallery. Within the compositions there are complexities and subtleties, but it is assured and generous drifts of plants that set this scheme apart… a look which is more akin to an intimate, self-seeded, meadow-inspired composition…

… hard landscape materials are kept simple; stone or wood are laid without complication but with repetition and in rhythms that borrow from the adjoining fields.”

As you can see in the video above, it is beautiful. Also incredibly easy to care for – cut or strim everything in early spring (say, late February?) and then allow plants to fulfill their roles throughout the rest of the year. Seedheads can be left on the plant. Grasses can sway in the breeze. The flowers can come and go as they please, without the gardener demanding they do more than they naturally want to.

This is a beautiful way of gardening (and far easier on the back…!)

Of his work on Oprah Winfrey’s garden, James Van Sweden said, “… we worked together to create an architectural context around the house, including newly installed terraces and walls. The materials we selected, brick framed with limestone, echoed the house, yet this architecture also conformed to the surrounding countryside, adopting its long, horizontal lines. In this way, we quite literally pulled the house out into the site.”

The architectural set against the natural, the soft, tells a story of what gardens could be like. A relationship of strength between the man-made and the unrestrained. It is a style of gardening we are veering more towards – we have spoken before about our dream garden, but everyday that dream garden morphs, defines itself in a different way.

Everytime we see the work of great designers we allow our dreams to become more and more asinine, yet more and more alluring.

To designers like James Van Sweden, who inspire us and the gardens we create!

Read part 2 about James Van Sweden.

(Check out some of his books here…)

Mar19

Wasting Water

Well worth a read in the BBC today – a note on how wasting water in the UK “as socially unacceptable as blowing smoke in the face of a baby.” Read the report here. I have written a talk about how we use water in the  garden. It was written when I moved from Hampshire to Essex and found out for myself just how dry this area of the UK is. It completely changed the way I garden. The lack of such a precious resource as water made me question what we can do to save it, store it and …

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Mar14

The Foie Gras That Tastes Like Nature

Ethical Foie Gras? Is That A Real Thing?   Foie gras – can it be ‘grown’ ethically? The video showing how this farmer works suggests it can… We first read about this in a book called The Third Plate by Dan Barber. I loved it and I love how Eduardo the farmer, who farms on the Dehesa in Spain, has a ‘take half leave half rule’. When talking about how the geese eat his olives… “They’re always quite fair. If you make sure the geese are relaxed and happy, you’ll be rewarded with the gift of fatty livers. That is God’s …

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Mar04

Hardy Orchids Via James Wong

Hardy orchids – here is a subject I would love to know more about – so lo and behold, James Wong has written about it in the Guardian! Read the article about hardy orchids here. I love having orchids in the house, just your usual run of the mill buy them in any shop orchids, but it is a pleasure to read about the plants that will grow outside and cope with this weather. (This insane weather! From the hottest days of February on record to Storm Freya, all within a week. Weather is always such a factor in gardening, but …

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