Tag Archives: garden design

To Grow and Celebrate

“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day. It’s a new life…” Nina Simone

I suppose it would be more conventional to write chapters 1-25 first, if I were to write a chapter per year of how horticulture has informed my life. With a nod to how we all began,  I’d like to let you know what we’re planning for 2014.

Chapter 1: Chris and I began Avant Gardens when we were asked to install a cut flower and herb garden for a local bistro. That was more than 25 years ago.

Chapter 26: (the first paragraphs…)

Grow. Isn’t that an optimistic word? What other word or phrase has the same meaning?  Move forward, awaken, gain awareness, obtain height, expand.  Grow? a simple powerful four letter word,  and it perfectly sums up what Chris and I chose to do with our lives after we were hired by that bistro owner mentioned in Chapter 1.

We can’t help but grow at Avant Gardens in 2014. It’s a given…we will have many new plant offerings to tempt you.  As always, there is an emphasis on uncommon selections which will look good for a long time in your garden. Besides plants, we are growing new ideas and new ways of sharing them. We are in the process of redoing and are just weeks away from debuting our new website. Not only will our online plant catalog have a beautiful new look with very useful search features; our new website will begin to showcase the evocative garden landscapes and stonework which Chris Tracey has designed and installed in recent years.  We also want to share some beautiful images of our own innovative, ever changing planting schemes and stone features here at Avant Gardens.

I have been feeling a growth spurt of my own. Many of you know me as the head honcho at the nursery and the main voice behind this blog. Recently, I have become more involved with the garden design services of Avant Gardens. After taking on a few sweet projects this past year, I realized that as much as I have invested my heart and soul in operating a nursery, I really miss designing and planting new gardens. There has been one obstacle: I need time. In order to free up more time for client meetings and executing drawings, we are going to have a more limited visiting hours schedule.  We will keep hours much the way other mail order nurseries function: Open House Weekends through out the season, and always, be open by appointment. As in the past, we encourage our local customers to place will call orders with their preferred pickup date if they would like us to reserve special plants for them.

There are more growth spurts calling me (which may provide some lively blog discussions). I’m considering keeping bees, I really want to have a more ambitious vegetable garden, I’m hoping to make time to practice my  painting skills and pay homage to what’s in season by creating “out of the garden” botanical arrangements. All too often I have been a gardener who can get  so bogged down with the chores that I am not enjoying the wonder that surrounds me. The growth spurts which are calling me are actually ways I will address this. Each is an expression of garden celebration. My new year’s resolution is to make a regular practice of celebrating our garden…winter, spring, summer and fall.

Now tell me,  how do you plan to grow and celebrate in 2014?

Spanish Impressions

The courtyard at Casa del Herrero with various tilework and paving.

The Northeast has many wonderful gardens but the ones that stand out as must see destinations are not built with plants alone. These gardens display structural materials and contours which challenge our formed perspectives in unexpected ways.  It is easy to slip into the parochial mentality of using traditional materials in traditional ways.  The best remedy for this is traveling! Nothing inspires and excites like unfamiliar architecture and a different climate, which imprint their unique personality upon the landscape.  This winter we explored, once again, southern California. Three places stood out, not only for their plants collections and designs, but for their use of decorative stone, tile and brick.

Detail showing band of tiles.

In the community of Montecito, Santa Barbara County, we visited Casa del Herrero.  Situated on a 7 acre trapezoidal site, this Spanish Colonial Revival is center stage to the surrounding gardens. While it is impossible to separate the house from the landscape as a unified whole, there are still individual vignettes and motifs that can find translation in New England gardens.  During our mid winter tour, Kathy remarked that the grounds were wonderful, even without many blossoms. Molly Barker, the executive director replied, ?Our tiles are our flowers?.  Though our cold climate gardens may never have the exquisite tilings of Casa del Herrero, it would take only a few to add flavor and personality to any courtyard or entry garden.

Use of tile as risers in brick steps at Lotusland.

Inlaid pebbles adorn the surface of the platform for this garden orb.

Pebble Mosaic Paving at Lotusland

Ten minutes from Monticeto, is Santa Barbara, home to Lotusland, the estate and garden created by the late Polish opera singer, Madame Ganna Walska.  Married six times to a series of wealthy husbands, Madame obviously never thought enough is enough.  This is equally evident in the gardens, dramatic and lush, living stages set sooo over-the-top that you forget where the bottom is. This stunning, fantastical landscape is another world, which is saying something since, in Santa Barbara, over-the-top is ?whateva!?.  Handsome and playful tile work is seen throughout, but the decorative stonework, constructed of small rounded stones (beach pebbles) set in mortar is spectacular.  This stone integrates well with many other hard surface materials: brick, cement, natural stone, bluestone and schist.

The Blue Iguana that greets you at the Inn.

Patio Paving Combination at the Blue Iguana Inn in Ojai.

Another stop on our tour was the Town of Ojai, CA, which shares a personality similar to Taos, NM.  Each is ripe with creative energy that manifests in house, garden, public and private space, culture and lifestyle.  Throughout southern California, water availability is an ongoing concern and Ojai is no exception.  This is, no doubt, one of the reasons that tiles and decorative stone craft play such an important role in the landscape.  The aesthetic contribution is colorful and constant.  While in Ojai, we stayed at The Blue Iguana Inn.  Here they used beach pebbles in several ways: to create the motif of the reptile, to simulate the shadow of a tree in a sitting area, and as a face on stair risers. As New Englanders we never tire of looking at stone, but finding new ways to use it is essential to expand the New England landscape vernacular.

–Chris Tracey, Avant Gardens

Gardener Portrait: Louis Raymond

Louis admiring an Erythrina

Louis admiring an Erythrina

I remember first meeting the talented Louis Raymond, oh, can it be 20 years ago already?  He visited Avant Gardens with a list in hand of at least a dozen hard-to-find plants, but soon was distracted by other selections.  The whole nursery heard his booming and joyful exclamations.  “Oh, goody: You have this, too!”  “You mean that now comes with purple foliage?  Fantastic!”  Before Louis was a landscape and garden designer, he was an opera singer.  Once you develop the resonance, you don’t lose it.

In an even earlier life, during his childhood in Erie, PA, Louis was already a performer, but with plants.  As a first grader he demonstrated to his fellow classmates how to sprout an avocado pit in a glass of water.  As a high school student, he took on real gardening jobs, actually pruning and dividing, not mere lawn mowing, and began advising on where a path should be constructed, or suggesting to the homeowner with surplus hosta divisions could best be used as a ground cover on a neglected slope.  Today, the plants in these gardens wouldn’t seem very exotic (they probably weren’t exotic even then) but to a young man learning of them for the first time, they were exciting indeed.  The client with all those hosta also had the first clump of autumn crocus Louis had ever seen.  What a horticultural thrill: huge croci in September not April!

Leucosceptrum japonica ‘Gold Angel’

Nowadays, the thrill needs to be a bit (a lot) more exotic for Louis.  As many of us know, plant collecting is the obsession of a lifetime, and one we like to share with others who are similarly blessed.  In his web journal www.LouisThePlantGeek.com, Louis chronicles day-by-day the wondrous plants currently performing for him in his gardens in Hopkinton, RI.  One day it might be Erythrina x bidwillii, the next perhaps Leucosceptrum japonicum ‘Gold Angel’.

His number one plant obsession right now (and there are so many that it was a little hard for him to pin down) are trees and shrubs that lend themselves to pollarding, coppicing, and espaliering.  His number two obsession are tender trees, shrubs, perennials, vines, and bulbs that extend the seasons but can easily be overwintered dormant in his root cellar.  (He already overwinters a packed greenhouse-worth of tender plants that need to stay in leaf in the cool months.  But there’s still plenty of room for more in the cellar!)

As he has for the past 20-plus years, Louis designs and installs gardens and landscapes for clients from New York to Boston, the Cape to the Berkshires.  His projects range from intimate city spaces to waterfront and woodland estates.  He mixes formality with casual abandon, and he loves to insert an astonishing plant here and there for that WOW factor.  Two dozen of his favorite projects over the years (including his own gardens) are in the galleries of his project site, www.RGardening.com.

Tender and Hardy Plants in Louis’ Garden

His advice for the novice gardener?  “Don’t worry about making your garden interesting in May and June, which in any event, will happen automatically as soon as your roses, peonies, and iris start blooming.  Instead, focus on August and February, when a garden can be sparse indeed; if your garden’s tap-dancing in August and February, the rest of the year will take care of itself.  And remember: Flowers are just the icing on the cake.  A garden’s best and most sustainable interest is in foliage, form, bark and berry.”