One friend to another, “Well, that was a complete waste of time.” The other friend responds, “I hope the next two speakers talk about garden design. Who cares about show gardens.”
I heard the above remarks, leaving the New York Botanical Garden, after Ulf Nordfjell’s lecture entitled, “Modern Gardens: The Essence of Nature.” Nordfjel was the first speaker in the 16th Annual Winter Lecture Series: Chelsea Gold.
As a three time winner at the Chelsea Flower Show, Ulf Nordfjell was a natural choice for a program featuring winners of The Chelsea Flower Show. The series brings together three winners, three garden designers from three different countries. The only thing these designers have in common is winning the Gold Medal at The Chelsea Flower Show. I did not expect Nordfjell to talk about anything else.
Nordfjell compared creating a garden at Chelsea to being a gladiator at the Colosseum in Rome during the 1st century BC. It’s a spectator sport. “You have 19 days, during which time, its bound to be cold and rainy. The show garden is a dream of a garden; it’s not about a garden. You learn tricks that work in 220 square meters. You order 30,000 plants and use 3,000. You treat the plants as diamonds.” What was refreshing about Nordfjell was his honesty.
“I see my garden as part of a constantly evolving international movement. Two women inspired my work – French designer Nicole de Vesian and Sweden’s Ulla Molin. Both were hugely influential in the development of modern gardens in their respective countries. Their laid back approach to garden design and the surrounding landscape generated a lot of interest in gardening and its development. They shared a simple design philosophy, using local materials and plants in g;ray, blue, white and purple color schemes, and the lighter shades of green and white.”
Ulla Molins (Sweden) and Nicole de Vesian (France) are the names of two women garden designers, I have never heard of. Molina was a garden journalist until 1966, when she started working as a landscape architect. de Vesian was a fashion designer for Hermes, moved to Provence in the 1980’s and the age of 70 began creating gardens.
“I think Swedish nature is always present in my design and I like to use natural materials, but the structure of my parks and gardens is always modern, with very strong elements.”
I could criticize Nordfjell’s gardens for their lack of modernism. Compared to other contemporary designers, who have given up on pruned trees, clipped hedges, plants divided into blocks and the lack of inter-planting; Nordfjell’s designs seem a homage to the past.
However, I am very grateful to Nordfjell for introducing me to these two women, who started designing gardens as a second career. I feel a certain kinship with them. And even if Nordfjell’s lecture centered on Chelsea, his generosity, humbleness and quietness was a lesson in and of itself.
This blog has been on vacation.
I feel like getting back in the saddle now.