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…)
Making a new topiary out of the large, dull facade of a Taxus blob… My work was to change it up from a ‘jelly drop’ shape and give it texture, open it out and let the light through, and make it a sculptural feature in the background of the garden in summer… yet a major part of the garden in winter. A few more years before it becomes something special, but there was far more leaf and growth inside the plant than I thought and so it will not take too long for it to gain in character and become …
Two weeks ago I was invited to teach topiary at the garden of Griselda Kerr, the author of The Apprehensive Gardener. I love teaching and sharing skills, but I was placed on the spot in the afternoon and asked to show how I would make a new topiary from an existing shrub. So below is a speeded-up video of me creating a cloud-pruned topiary from an old boxwood tree. I particularly love the ending when the class get involved….! See the video here. One hour was all it took, and though it needed a little tidying-up, it was made by …
Charlotte Molesworth, my topiary mentor, and I are running our popular topiary workshop again in 2022. You can email me for details – or go here for information, your ticket and to find out about dates. Book A Spot On A Topiary Workshop, September 2022