Helen Dillon, Distinguished Counselor to the NYBG Board of Trustees, has created an exquisite garden in the suburbs of Dublin, and she is considered one of Ireland’s greatest gardeners, as well as a world-famous teacher and garden writer.
In her book, Down to Earth with Helen Dillon (Timber Press, $29.95), available at NYBG Shop, Dillon describes the evolution of her garden, first started in 1972 with her husband Val. Surrounded by stone walls on less than an acre, the property, including a house built in the 1830s, already had roses, apple trees, a wobbly greenhouse, hen houses, a large bed of bearded iris, a vegetable patch, and a rockery pile of stones in the middle of the lawn. But all of this was to change.
The main garden is at the back of the house facing south where Dillon has organized plants by their preferred habitat. The biggest change was replacing the lawn in the main garden with a lovely canal set in Irish limestone. Several small gardens are tucked behind the main garden with gravel pathways and a charming sitting area that features lovely bird cages. There’s also a Victorian style greenhouse built in 1976.
In this presidential election year, a new book by NYBG instructor and garden historian Marta McDowell, entitled All the Presidents’ Gardens (Timber Press, $29.95), is both timely and refreshing for it avoids partisan politics entirely. As McDowell puts it,“whether gardeners lean right or left, blue or red, we are united by a love of green growing things and the land in which they grow.”
The book, available in the NYBG Shop, concentrates on fascinating stories, quirky presidential personality traits, and humorous observations—all of which vividly document how the White House gardens under different administrations reflect a changing America.
Recently McDowell talked about writing the new book and some of her favorite White House gardens. (The interview below has been edited for length.)
Chanticleer Garden, a 35-acre public garden not far from Philadelphia, is considered to be one of the greatest, most magical gardens in America. Open to visitors from April through October, Chanticleer’s six gardeners are responsible for the design, planting, and maintenance of particular areas of the property, including 15 distinct garden “rooms,” each on the scale of a good-sized residential garden, and each with its own look and feel.
Each gardener’s artistic vision is beautifully documented in The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer available at NYBG Shop (Timber Press, $34.95). Lavishly photographed by Rob Cardillo, and co-authored by the Chanticleer Gardeners, the book reveals the gardeners’ personal styles, as well as their varied approaches to color, to the use of sculpture and other media, to experimentation, and to choice of plants.
Two bulb experts, Michael Hagen, Curator of the Rock Garden and Native Plant Garden, and Marta McDowell, NYBG instructor, author, gardener, and landscape historian, recently commented on some frequently asked questions about the gorgeous spring bulbs now blossoming in the garden . Here’s what they had to say.
Q: What are some of the easiest spring/early summer bulbs to grow?
McDowell: Narcissus seem to be almost indestructible and with so many varieties, you can have them in bloom for almost two months. Other choices: Crocosmia—graceful in leaf and flower and blackberry lily (Iris domestica or Belamcanda chinensis). Great foliage, flowers, and seed pods.
Q: What are some of the most difficult bulbs to grow, aside from climate issues?
Hagen: Climate aside, the hardest to grow are the ones that our native ground squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, and gophers enjoy eating. Species tulips have been a particular challenge in the Rock Garden. If it’s a warm fall (and the chipmunks are not hibernating yet) they can be dug up and eaten right after they’ve been planted.
In his captivating slideshow for the Annual NYBG Winter Lecture Series, Chelsea Gold, Ulf Nordfjell’s gardens designed for the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show look completely contemporary with impressively modern, clean lines and simple, architectural forms.
Nordfjell, who is a trained botanist, ceramicist, and landscape architect, is known for his use of natural Swedish granite, steel, and timber to build the structures in his gardens. But there’s another key element in his designs: old-fashioned romance.
The son of a forester and a gardening mother, Nordfjell was raised in northern Sweden and is now based in Stockholm. He has a deep commitment to ecology and the environment, often using native Swedish grasses and flowers in his designs. No matter what country he is working in, one of Nordfjell’s guiding ecological principles is “the right plant for the right place.” His trend-setting gardens live up to this rule. But at the same time, he loves to choose plants that are surprisingly romantic.
One of the biggest surprises is the fact that 25 percent of our prescription medicines—including many of today’s life-saving, well-known products—come from plant ingredients. The exhibition highlights dozens of plant species for their impact in promoting health or fighting disease.
For Benjamin Swett, photographer and author of New York City of Trees, every tree has a story, and their stories connect us to the past as well as foreshadow the future. His award-winning book, available at NYBG Shop (Quantuck Lane Press, $29.95), features NYBG‘s “good-looking” European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’), the unusual snake branch spruce (Picea abies ‘Virgata’) and magnificent dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostoboides) located in the Benenson Ornamental Conifers collection, and the stunning grove of four Tanyosho pines (Pinus densiflora ‘Umbraculiferas’) near the reflecting pool beyond the Conservatory Gate at NYBG.
Swett credits NYBG’s Todd Forrest and Deanna Curtis, both experts in woody plants, for being “enormously helpful to me, not only in my research into the many trees included from the NYBG, but also on general questions of forestry and the history of the different species.”
A new series of photo-driven guides for the home gardener called the Plant Lover’s Guides devotes each lavishly illustrated book to a single popular plant. One of the newest installments in the series focuses on asters. It is written by Paul Picton and his daughter, Helen, specialist growers who operate prize-winning Picton Garden, near Malvern, in Herefordshire, England.
The Pictons are passionate experts in the field and their garden holds more than 400 different forms of asters that flower at their peak in the late summer and fall, right up to the frosty winter. Their book, The Plant Lover’s Guide to Asters ($24.95, Timber Press), available at the Shop in the Garden, recommends the best varieties and designs for different growing conditions, along with color combinations that work well, and in-depth advice on planting and maintenance.
To the delight of all visitors, two giant caterpillar topiaries—dubbed Frida and Diego—have recently been designed and planted by NYBG gardeners, Diana Babbitt and Katie Bronson, in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden.
“We thought it would be fun to try to make a Frida caterpillar,” explains Katie. “So we looked at a lot of her pictures where she is wearing flower headdresses and we tried to make one of those.”
Frida is filled with deep purple-red coleus punctuated by bright pink Zinnia elegans that contrasts with nearly black Salviadiscolor on her body. Her raised head is softened by green ‘Round Leaf’ Hedera, and her eyes look straight ahead, portrait-style, under those famous bushy eyebrows.
Many of us got our first glimpse of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s life with the award-winning 2002 biopic starring Salma Hayek and directed by Julie Taymor, of Lion King fame. But the Frida now on view at The New York Botanical Garden’s exhibition, FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life, is a totally different person from the film version.
The new exhibition is the first to “re-imagine” Kahlo’s garden and to explore her appreciation of nature—including the many plants, insects, and fascinating animal imagery in her paintings.
Frida Kahlo adored the garden at her home, the Casa Azul (Blue House), in Coyoacán, Mexico. Her painting studio directly overlooked the garden with its cobalt blue walls and fabulous collection of native Mexican plants. The garden was both an inspiration and a private haven during Kahlo’s personal battles with chronic illnesses and disabilities.