PHYLLIS ODESSEY

A Pleasurable Experience

A friend of my mine called to tell me that she would NOT be going to the lecture by Bill Thomas at NYBG.  “I don’t learn anything new at these talks.  It’s just a bunch of pretty pictures. ”  I understood what she was talking about.  I often feel the same way.
I went to hear Bill Thomas.  Partly, I felt obligated.  I had received a scholarship from Chanticleer and emailed Bill Thomas many times over the course of a year, but I had never met him.  This was my opportunity.  I was not disappointed.
If you want to take a walk through a garden, any garden, I feel the best person to do that with is the designer.  Bill Thomas has been overseeing Chanticleer for over 15 years.  He gave an intimate and comprehensive look at the gardens at Chanticleer, their intentions and changes over the years.
Every garden (public or private) is making efforts to reduce their costs, use new technologies and create sustainable opportunities.  Chanticleer is no different.  For me, this was the most relevant part of Bill’s talk.
1.  Creating areas where turf is only mowed once a year.  These are normally in places where bulbs are planted.  These high grass areas create texture and form in an otherwise flat plane.  In concert with this idea, is the education of public.  Will people accept areas of non-mown grass or substitutes like Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)?  As Thomas said, leaving long grass or planting an alternative “on a day with frost is like the icing on a cake and in the rain they shiver.”
2.  Controlled burns are common in the UK, but rare in this country, especially in botanical gardens.  Chanticleer has instituted a controlled burn. The burn lasts for 43 minutes under the guidance of the fire dept.  Chanticleer burns its sporobolus (prairie dropseed).  The plants are healthier and without the donut hole in the middle that most grasses have after a number of years.
3. With  3 water retention basins that hold 30,000 gallons, Chanticleer is able to reduce its reliance on traditional water sources for a great deal of its water practices.
4.  The garden has also experimented with cover crops: Little Bluestem, radishes, buckwheat.
5.  In a garden whose mission is aesthetically driven, like Chanticleer, compost is hidden behind high walls.  One of the gardeners is experimenting with composting in public areas and planting into the compost itself.
6.  The ultimate plan: no organic material will leave the property.
7.  In addition to cisterns, 18% of Chanticleer’s electricity is produced by solar panels.
8.  For the woodland garden, Chanticleer is using  recycled rubber mulch glued down for  pathways.
In a garden with a hefty endowment, instead of remaining stucked in some historic period, Chanticleer is  trying get ahead of the curve.  It’s beauty, creativity and diversity inspire me.

BILL THOMAS

Chanticleer
New York Botanical Garden
March 14, 2013

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