“The area of a handsome Garden may take up thirty or forty Acres, not more.”
— Philip Miller, “The Gardener’s Dictionary” (1724)
Just the other day I saw a picture of the queen’s garden at Buckingham Palace in an English gardening magazine. As I read the article, I was amazed to learn that the garden behind the palace consists of 39 acres. Right in the middle of London!
During a visit several years ago, when I stood in front of the ornate iron fence that protects the palace, all I managed to see was a large expanse of pavement and gravel drive. It is so well concealed from the front that one would never imagine its existence.
For centuries, the English gardening style has been the gold standard for gardens all around the world. The Italian, classic style dating back to the Romans had a huge influence on early gardens of the English aristocracy. Think of ruins and tall cypress trees and the pines of Rome.
Like everything else in our now constantly changing world, gardening style has been changing with what seems like warp speed. Twenty years ago when I started gardening with a passion, the English style remained prominent in my reading and thinking. I had the privilege of visiting the garden at Sissinghurst Castle (developed by Vita Sackville-West between 1930 and 1962) and soaked up the concepts of “garden rooms,” “white gardens” and avenues of manicured sycamore trees. It was fabulous.
Strolling the incredibly long mixed borders at the Royal Horticulture Society’s garden at Wisley dazzled me as well. This visit to England started me on planting every type of perennial I could get my hands on (including starting seeds), and yes, garden rooms and designed borders were part of my ideal garden as well.
Some time later, I went through a “Tropicalismo” phase, named after the great “old curmudgeon” of English gardening, Christopher Lloyd, (1921–2006). He was known to have ripped out the entire rose garden at his famous Great Dixter, replacing it with tropical foliage and flowers of all sorts in brilliant colors, and sending a shock wave throughout the international gardening community!
More changes were about to burst upon the gardening world. At the turn of the last century a new style of gardens was being developed in Germany. Stephen Lacy, a garden writer wrote: “Not surprisingly, it was the look of the plantings that intrigued me initially. They were far removed from the English herbaceous or mixed border. There was no formal framework, no grading of heights from front to back, no segregated clumping, no unnaturally jazzy leaf colors or highly bred flowers, and no sense of the garden being a collector’s cabinet of choice specimens. Instead, the effect was casual, mingled, and undulating, the majority of plants in each bed being much the same height as each other, as in a meadow. And this naturalistic quality was reinforced by the grasses.”
This points to a huge shift in planting style in the past 18 years. Beginning in the early 20th century with German breeders (Karl Foerster, Ernst Pagels), who popularized grasses for the first time, it was the Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf who popularized this new naturalistic style. He launched what has become known as the “Dutch wave,” that swept through the world in the Nineties.
Oudolf is known in the U.S. for a number of large-scale design projects including, in 2010, the planting of the “High Line”, a raised linear park on New York’s West Side. This planting is “much more like a miraculous slice of nature than an artful arrangement of plants.”
I think our own gardens reflect this change in planting, which I heartily welcome!
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in the At Home section. Gloria Kupferman is one of three columnists featured.