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…)

Apr28

Phillyrea From 1682

Worlidge Phillyrea

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 …

READ MORE

Apr27

Kites And Strings Podcast – Topiary In The Garden

kites and strings podcast

Kites and Strings is a podcast about creativity, hosted by US-based Stephen Ploum and Catherine Chinnock. Back in March they asked me to come onto their podcast and talk about topiary, my past writing plays, the stand-up I did and how creativity can fit into your life. The Kites and Strings podcast was great fun and Stephen and Catherine are fantastic hosts. Listening back today I am surprised by some of the ideas I talked about (somehow I even started to describe a future where I run a ‘School of Creativity’ by the sea…. where did that come from?!) but it …

READ MORE

Apr27

Robinia – Pruning A Beautiful Tree For Small Gardens

topiary Robinia

Robinia is often forgotten – by me, actually! – when thinking of plants for topiary. But when I work on it I do love it, brittle and soft as the wood is if you climb into it. But that danger of snapping a branch with a heavy step and falling out of the tree aside, I love it for the dappled light it allows into the garden space. Robinia Near The Sea Below is a Robinia I have gently clipped over the last few years, down near Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. The tree was large when I arrived, although it is …

READ MORE