THE MODERN MINT BLOG
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!
(Check out some of his books here…)
Brought By Bike is an excellent website I found last month, where businesses offer their services by (of course) bicycle. Modern Mint and my topiary work is now live on the site offering my topiary services, via bike, to the following two postcodes – CM1 CM2 Now I can imagine I will need to borrow a ladder should anyone have a larger shrub, but most town gardens in the Chelmsford area have a need not just for privacy but to let light into the house… so a balance must be struck when shaping hedges and shrubs to cover both needs. …
Transforming Topiary – a video made for the European Boxwood And Topiary Society by Charlotte Molesworth and I, in her garden. We take a dog topiary and work out how to update it, turning it into a bird. Worth a watch I think, and hopefully useful to you! You can see more of my clipping on the topiary page. Or read my Spring 2021 Topiary Provocation here.
Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …