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Andy Goldsworthy: Storm King Wall


Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) worked in collaboration with English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. She developed beautiful gardens around her home, Munstead Wood, in Surrey, and committed her ideas to print in a series of books, including Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden (1914). In private ownership, the gardens at Munstead Wood, noted for its wide, long, mixed perennial borders, have been restored and are occasionally open to the public.

Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) wrote a garden column for the British Observer newspaper and authored seven garden books. With her husband, Harold Nicolson, a career diplomat, she created the spectacular 'compartment' garden of Sissinghurst, which is now owned by the National Trust.

Thomas Church (1902-78) the leading landscape architect in California produced a book about his work entitled Gardens are for People (1955) in which he explained his philosophy of designing gardens as outdoor rooms, with an emphasis on places for relaxation. Church's counterpart in Europe was Russell Page (1906-85) who wrote The Education of a Gardener (1962), documenting gardens he designed in France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and the USA, with an eye for formality and easy maintenance.

Roberto Burle Marx (1909-94) was a leading landscape architect in Brazil who greatly influenced tropical gardens worldwide. His style is instantly recognizable for contrasting strong modernistic architectural elements such as Inca inspired walls and canal-like watercourses, with dense plantings of tropical species in huge swathes. Other signatures include the use of giant forms of philodendron vines, eye-catching bromeliads in bold terracotta containers and huge Victorian water lily planters. His garden near Rio was deeded to the state on his death and is open to the public.

Another very influential garden is Great Dixter is a house in Northiam, East Sussex close to the South Coast of England. It is regarded as the epitome of English plantsmanship. The original house at Dixter, which dates from the mid 15th century, was acquired by a businessman named Nathaniel Lloyd in 1909. He had a 16th century house in a similar style moved from Kent and the two were combined with new work by the architect Edwin Lutyens to create a much larger house, which was rechristened Great Dixter. It is a romantic recreation of a medieval manor house, complete with great hall, parlour, solar and yeoman's hall.

Nathaniel Lloyd and Lutyens began the garden at Great Dixter, but it was Nathaniel's son Christopher Lloyd, a well known garden writer and television personality, who made it famous. The garden is in the arts and crafts style, and features topiary, a long border, an orchard and a wild flower meadow. The planting is profuse, yet structured, and has featured many bold experiments of form, colour and combination.

The well-publicized British coastal garden of the late Derek Jarmans, a set designer for the London theater, expressed his sensitive, earth-friendly, creative personality with a spartan cottage along a pebble storm beach at Dungeness, where he brought into the garden items of flotsam and jetsam, like driftwood pitted by barnacles, torn fishing nets and storm-ravaged buoys, as sculpture. These he seeded around with indigenous wildflowers like corn poppies and mallow, sea oats and sea kale. All this was developed within view of a hideous nuclear power plant, the very antithesis of Jarman's psychological yearnings.

Living trendsetters are difficult to identify. Probably the main trend is towards naturalistic planting associated with sustainability and nature conservation.

For distinctive structural elements look to the work of Andy Goldsworthy, who fashions stones and branches into organic sculptural forms such as stone cairns and woven twig structures. Many of his designs feature a black circular hole. Though the symbolism of the black hole seems sexual, he describes it as a dimension that completes the whole, black signifying the heart of a stone, the heart of a tree, like a cave or hollow with something tantalizing and mysterious inside. His own garden, Glenluce, in Dumfrieshire, Scotland, utilizes centuries old building and walls of a farm as backgrounds for his sculpture. 'If I had to describe my work in one word, that word would be "time"; he says.

Though many of Goldsworthy's creations are fleeting, using wildflower petals and ice formations, some are durable, such as the 2278 ft long, snaking dry stone Storm King Wall at the Storm King Art Centre, New York State. Inspired by British farm walls common in Wales and the Yorkshire dales, it has no mortar for support. In an age when art in the garden has become abstract and contrived, it is comforting to see how Goldsworthy produces unconventional patterns and sculptures with whatever he discovers in the outdoors – branches, foliage, rocks, ice formations, flower petals and even pigeon feathers – to provoke new ways to look at the wonders of nature and the magic of the garden.

The naturalistic plantings of the Dutchman Piet Oudolf have become extremely popular in Europe,, weaving ornamental grasses and plants with wispy see through blossoms among drifts of flowering perennials to create an artistic free flowing tapestry a style also popularised by Dutch artist Ton ter Linden In the United States the design team of Ohme and van Sweden have made this style of grading significant over much of their careers. Mien Ruys and Beth Chatto have also taken garden design in new directions. Mien Ruys' father was an old friend of Miss Jekyll's and Mien learnt much from Miss Jekyll on the use of colour in gardens. Mien Ruys’ color plantings also focused on plant form. Breaking with another tradition, she pursued professional training in landscape architecture. She is a major link between the plant-orientated gardening of Britain, the horticultural traditions of the Netherlands, and the modernism of the wider continent of Europe. Writing before the war, the title of one of her books was Borders: How They Are Created and Maintained (1939), but by the time the book was first reprinted in 1952, the author expressed her concern that much had changed since writing the initial volume. By the time she was asked to revise the book in 1959, she had not only changed the title to The Use and Care of Perennials in Our Garden, but almost its entire contents. A border was only one way to apply perennials; there were many other possibilities. One of the additions was in an introductory section on the differing starting points for the use of perennials, with a chapter entitled “taking nature as an example,” in which the examples of Thijsse’s Hof, Thijssepark, and Hortus De Wolf were discussed. Jacobus Pieter Thijsse (1865–1945) was the father of the ecological movement in the Netherlands,

By the late 1930s landscape architects were preoccupied with different forms of ecological or natural planting, owing to the influence of Thijsse and others. Pannekoek and Schipper distinguished five different ways of grouping plants in a garden. The most common manner was the “mixed aesthetically and physiologically correct grouping,” where due care and attention were given to the conditions of the garden, the soil, and to form a harmonic whole. The second manner distinguished was “grouping according to plant communities,” for example, heath and woodland vegetation, dune f lora, peat, and moorland vegetation. The third manner was the “phytogeographical planting,” which the authors considered suitable for only the largest parks and gardens. The fourth group, the “systematic grouping of plants,” where plants were arranged in family groupings, was rarely applied, and was particularly suitable for arboretums and larger parks and, gardens. The last manner they distinguished—notably excluded from the first edition of their book in 1939—was “groupings of wild plants,” which was distinct from the grouping according to plant communities by its scale and application. Thijsse inf luenced the professional world of the large-scale planning of Amsterdam's Bospark, and the way it was planted. In his texts Thijsse encouraged ordinary Dutch people to use wildf lowers and to conserve them. He set an example by writing about his own gardens in Amsterdam and Bloemendaal, which were filled with wildf lowers. Mien Ruys’ designs are an instance of Thijsse’s continued posthumous inf luence on garden design after the war, which still remains to be surveyed.

Beth Chatto and her husband started their garden in Essex in 1960, when it was an overgrown wasteland with all conditions between dry and damp soil, gravel and sand and everything inbetween sun and shade. Through trials and tribulations to jubilation, the gardens are magnificent proving that there is a plant to suit every situation. The garden is the epitome of ecological planting without the emphasis on native species.

In contrast, the semi- formalist garden known as Little Sparta, in the Pentland Hills Scotland, reflects the tenacious, controversial and artistic temperament of its owner, Ian Hamilton Finlay. 'I started to use text in the garden in different kinds of inscription,' he muses, 'It was quite unusual to have inscriptions in classical gardens, and I liked the idea.' Little Sparta is now filled with replicas of Roman roads and story stones. These story stones include massive broken stone tablets laid beside a pond, as though shattered by earthquake, also a slate memorial to a ship lost at sea and set into a moss-covered stone wall. This kind of environmental poetry features in his garden The five acre garden also includes more conventional sculptures and temple-like buildings as well as plants.