Monday, August 10, 2009

101 Gardens To See Before I Die

I'm still working on the complete list, but definitely one on my "must see" gardens was Thuya Garden & Lodge in Northeast Harbor, Maine. It only took a small fortune to secretly bribe each of my children to let me take the most delightful afternoon of our vacation to steal away for a self-indulgent day trip. Designed by notable, and self-taught, landscape designer Charles Savage, Thuya Garden offers a splendid perennial border garden in the fashion of Gertrude Jekyll's famed English gardens. Absolutely, this would be one to remember.

Through the front gate, the first evergreens I noticed were none other than two overgrown Picea glabra, Dwarf Alberta Spruce -- the same plants ubiquitous to gas station landscapes and grocery store garden sections, and most definitely the last plant I would have expected to see at Thuya.
(Note: There is not a place in the modern world for "garden critics," so as a general rule, I try not to be critical of plant selections or garden structure of other designers. Rather, I work to make myself consider more thoughtfully what the designer was trying to accomplish. I may still not like the idea, but at least I can appreciate what someone else did.)

Then, I walked on a short path to the perennial gardens. At first look, I thought the mix of colors was too intense, too varied and too unplanned. I had expected a progression of colors cool to hot, but felt a bit disappointed when a lovely mix of blues, violets and whites was missing a small taste of yellow to bring out the intensity of the palette. Instead, a ruddy orange peered between some meadow blues and creamy whites. A stand of brilliant red Monarda stood straight and tall next to a massing of steely blue Echinops ritro. Why would anyone one do that?
Taking a deep breath, I continued to walk and look. The beds are not borders, but rather very long, stand alone beds that can be viewed from all sides. Just as soon as I thought again about the missing yellow, I made a turn and my view became exactly that, a wash of yellow throughout the garden with the cooler colors just a complement. The ruddy oranges and vibrant reds were perfectly sited and gave me pause to consider the pleasure of enjoying a beautifully planted garden.

Walking back through the gardens (to the loo), I found the gardener's shed. I must confess I was struck by a strong sense of shed-envy. An old wooden wheelbarrow, tools all aligned and upright against the wall, all hidden behind the main gardens, but yet still very much a part of the garden.

Only then, and much to my surprise, I found the reason for the dense and blobby Picea glabra - a perfectly framed view (denser than a holly which might not survive the harsh winters, more compact and proportional than a larger spruce) with a tease of the perennial beds - and one that would be most often, and perhaps more appropriately, enjoyed by the gardener, not the garden visitor.