PHYLLIS ODESSEY

The Walmart of Gardens

If you want to test your limitations, head up to the heather garden at Fort Tryon Park.

Designed by the Olmsted Brothers in 1935, you can still perceive the bones of a great public park. Sitting at an elevation of 150 feet above Broadway, the heather garden bears little resemblance to its original design. 19th century photos, show the garden entirely made up great mounds of heaths and heathers. It looks like a modernist masterpiece. Uncomplicated in concept, clean lines, a study in texture, unified by its simplicity.

Time has not been kind to this garden. The heaths and heathers have mostly died, a few remain to remind us of what was once there. Neglect and restoration are in evidence. Gardeners with every imaginable taste, limited resources and access to every variety of perennial on the market have gardened here. The result is a plant flea market.

I guessed at the kind of gardener who planted sedums and roses,
the gardener who adored, the heuchera and ornamental grasses,
the gardener who couldnt resist the foxgloves and poppies,
the gardener who had to have anemones and eryngium,
the gardener who preferred the geraniums and the helenium.
I sympathized with all of them.

It’s a huge space. Plenty of room. But is there?

And that’s what started me thinking. A large space is far more challenging then that small intimate garden room – where throwing everything you like into it, makes it charming. The same cannot be said for a large garden where its all a jumble. It’s a good garden for a plant id class. It’s not a pleasing aesthetic experience.

Just for comparison wander over the three gardens inside the Cloisters. Small, intimate, restful, idealized spaces from another time. See the power of a square garden contained within walls.

Then head back to the heather garden and challenge yourself to redesign it. What would you save and what would go to the tag sale?

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