Inspired by English gardens yet unapologetically re-envisioned to suit the American climate and re-worked to snub conventional garden design "rules", Wave Hill is an extraordinary garden by any standards. Nature into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill by Thomas Christopher (Timber Press, 2019) not only tells the story, it also inspires gardeners with plant information, techniques, and encouragement.
Design Inspiration for Rule Breakers!
If you're something of a self-confessed gardening rebel, this book is your validation.
At Wave Hill, the plants themselves became the inspiration for design, specifically their architecture; their form and pattern of growth. And while traditional designers map out every detail on paper, the founding director of horticulture at Wave Hill, Marco Polo Stefani and his gardening partner John Nally, both with a background in fine arts, preferred to simply move plants around until they liked the look of a composition creating serendipitous combinations and color effects.
Not surprisingly, the gardens at Wave Hill have evolved organically and incrementally rather than from a carefully plotted master plan. As you delve further into this book you will see how regular editing and re-assessment has enabled this approach to succeed and how they managed to avoid the obvious pitfalls of a chaotic, overgrown jungle where only the fittest survives!
A Garden for Every Gardener
After an initial introduction to the gardens history, Nature into Art walks the reader through each of the garden areas which include the Flower Garden, Gold Border, Shade Border, Wild Garden, Herb & Dry Gardens, the Conservatory, and the Elliptical Garden. Here are just a few of the easy 'take home' ideas from some of these chapters:
The Flower Garden
- Learn how annuals are used to create the soft and undulating planting style that has become recognized as their signature style at Wave Hill.
- Discover the importance of focal points such as a series of tall wooden obelisks which add structure to the froth of flowers as well as providing a support for climbers.
- See, through beautiful photography, how the boldly colored Canna 'Tropicanna', can add an unexpected flamboyant note to a more traditional planting of pale pink roses and apricot dahlias, yet far from feeling incongruous, the gentle color harmony really works.
- Read how container grown plants can be dropped into the displays during the season such as adding pots of orange nasturtiums into a planting bed of pale purple irises, each plant enhanced by the association.
The Shade Border
Rather than just diving into a discussion of the plants grown here, the author first carefully explains the nuances of shade as well as the relationship to moisture conservation in the soil.
The chapter is then broken down into seasons, my favorite being the Spring Bloomers which is a wonderful reminder of all those ephemeral favorites that thrive in deciduous woodland. Covering bulbs, perennials and early blooming shrubs this is welcome eye candy for me as I look out onto snow today!
There is also a great section on Planting and Care in the shade garden that discusses the challenges of working around large roots and irrigation.
The Edges of Everything
An interesting chapter towards the end of the book, this allows us a look over the proverbial garden fence to see why they do what they do at Wave Hill, or what the gardeners jokingly refer to as "the Queen's way" of doing things! (Clearly, being British, this intrigued me!)
It comes down to this – details matter. As a public garden, Wave Hill wants to ensure that the visitors very first – and last impression is favorable, so they strive to ensure the grounds are always weed free, that craftsmanship is of the very highest standards, and all border edges are clearly defined. Indeed the gardeners work hard to master and refine "the edges of everything."
Stufano was taught and influenced by others who had trained in private estates in England and who insisted on doing things "right." To that effect, clay pots are used since plants "simply grow better." Fingertips rather than thumbs are used to firm the soil around a plant in a pot – because thumbs exert too much pressure.
In this chapter you will learn about seed sowing the Wave Hill way, together with techniques such as pinching, staking, and mulching.
A Few Final Details
Kudos must be given to the outstanding photography of Ngoc Minh Ngo. How I wish I could have followed her around as she photographed this garden over many seasons. Here eye for light is remarkable. All photographs in this post are hers and provided courtesy of Timber Press.
And – proud mum moment here – big shout out to my daughter Katie (Kaitlin Pond) who drew the incredibly detailed illustration of the garden shown above and featured in the book. Beyond remarkable, especially as she had to piece together the various satellite images, still images, and notes from multiple sources, insisting her scale was accurate (she is an architect after all!) and colors representative.
Where to Buy
Available everywhere books are sold – ask at your local independent book store or order online if you prefer. This is a hardback book – it would be an outstanding gift for a friend.
Enter to Win a Copy
I have one copy to give away to a lucky reader! Just leave a comment below telling me which "garden rules" YOU find frustrating.
- Only comments left on this blog post will be entered into the drawing – not on any images within the blog post or on social media.
- Only one entry per person please.
- Only residents of the USA will be entered to win the book (due to shipping costs) but of course comments are welcome from all.
- Drawing will be by random number generator at 10am PST on Tuesday February 11th.
- Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond with mailing address after which time another name will be drawn.
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And the Winner Is…
Vilma Papaleka. Congratulations! I have sent you an email. Please respond within 48 hours.
Many thanks for everyone
Such great comments – so interesting! In fact I may use some of them (without your names) in a new seminar I'm putting together.