the yin and yang of gardening

yin_and_yangHorticulture Now? Is this a subject worth discussing? Is there anything to ponder?  At Plant-o-rama the word horticulture was infused with an unappealing and banal meaning.  On Friday, at the Longwood Symposium, Horticulture Now, the organizers deliberately presented two opposing interpretations of horticulture practice. The yin was Chris Crowder, Head Gardener of Levens Hall in the UK and the yang was Marcus de la Fleur of Marcus de la fleur LLC.

levens hall winter

Photo courtesy of Levens Hall

levens hall Chris

Chris Crowder
Photo courtesy of Levens Hall

Chris Crowder has been Head Gardener at Levens for 28 years.  The first slide of his power point presentation was a bill of sale for tulip roots from 1698.  “They never throw any bits of paper away.”  As Crowder spoke, I was reminded of my time at Nymans and Hidicote.  Days of weeding, deadheading, cutting back, bedding out, propagating, staking and edging.  I have only positive feelings about Nymans and Hidcote. I am relieved not to be charged with a level of maintenance and “an impression of quality” that these types of historic gardens demand.  The gardens of Levens Hall have been hit with Boxwood blight and the rising waters of a nearby river “turning the ground to pudding.”

marcus de la fleur

Marcus de la Fleur

The shots of plants and trees underwater at Levens Hall was the perfect segue for Marcus de la Fleur. His talk was all about sustainability in the residential landscape.  Unlike many others who talk about sustainability, de la Fleur used an ordinary, small suburban house and garden to illustrate his point.  On approximately 1/8 of acre, he managed to position a small green roof over the front porch, rain barrels fed by roof gutters,  a bio swale along the side of the house, porous pavement for the walkways and gravel grass as a driveway plus a native plant and rain garden.  Although I am familiar with all these techniques, it was particularly interesting to see them installed in a run-of-the-mill house.

Marcus de la Fleur, like many Europeans, is a proponent of fire, as a method of maintaining and fertilizing native plant gardens.  With a permit from the fire department, he lit the small garden on the side of this house on fire; first hosing down the cedar fence separating the owners property from the neighboring house.  I have seen this technique used in large meadows, but never in a suburban situation.  Now, I am wondering if it would be possible to get a permit to burn in a municipal environment.

The afternoon speakers returned to the expected.  Kerry Ann Mendez on “Extremely Low-Maintenance Perennials by Season,” and Stephen Scanniello on “Eternal, Easy, Everyday Roses.” An alumni of the Longwood Garden Professional Gardening Program, planting-up-new-bed-at-great-dixter-august-2011-4Emma Seniuk gave a talk about her internship at Great Dixter.  Anyone who has been Dixter knows how amazing it is.  Seniuk was able to communicate the history of Dixter and her tasks as an intern. She failed to convey the most outstanding feature of the Dixter gardens:  the layering of plants that keep Great Dixter under the leadership of Fergus Garrett, one of the most cutting-edge gardens in the UK.

The horticulture of Levens Hall evokes oohs and aahs and the garden of de la Fleur appeals to the intellect.  How to combine the two is the horticulture of the future.

One comment

  1. While traveling through Belize last year there was a constant haze from fire smoke lingering about. I have never considered using fires in neighborhoods though. Seems like with the right precautions, it could be safe, but I wonder how necessary it really is to be so dramatic when it comes to the delicacies of an eco-system.

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