Garden Notes

A display of beauty

By Abigail Higgins - March 30, 2006

There was an element of high anticipation surrounding this year's New England Flower Show. Since the word was out early on that a team composed of Paul Miskovsky of Falmouth and David Haskell, son of New Bedford's late renaissance horticulturist Allen Haskell, would be returning after a lengthy absence with a large display garden to anchor the show, it seemed highly appropriate that the show's theme was "Welcome Home! Celebrating our Great New England Landscape." So when my sister and I attended we made a beeline for their display. It did not disappoint.

One of the initial statements their spring garden made was one of restful greenness. It showed that it is not necessary to have explosions of color, the usual battalions of bright pink forced azaleas, lavender 'PJM' rhododendrons, and yellow trumpet narcissi blaring away, in order to have an enchanting spring garden. (Yes, there was a small bank of the immaculately grown delphiniums, backed up with yellow hollyhocks, that were a signature touch, practically copyrighted, of Allen Haskell's many years of show gardens.) The elements of the hardscape were sophisticated but not complicated: this design is one that you or I could actually have at our own place. It should give an ordinary gardener a spectacular model.

The garden contained fancy fowl (not only peafowl, a Haskell trademark, but also Toulouse geese and fantailed pigeons), which were contained elegantly in a tall, circular aviary, a slate-roofed mini-chateau "goosecote" and airy dovecote, respectively. The goosecote, punctuated by a beautiful glass ball finial at the apex of the pyramidal slate roof, was placed conveniently adjacent to the spectacular pool-with-fountain. The fountain, quite a tour de force itself, was composed of an enormous wheel-like granite millstone, through whose slightly humped center gurgled the water that then sheeted down and across the diameter of the stone's surface, returning to the pool beneath.

The sodded lawn ran down the core, the aviary anchoring one end and the goosecote the other, and walkways wound their way around, creating the illusion of depth and spaciousness despite the confined area. The plant material included many choice subjects that I shall endeavor to revivify from my execrable note taking. The overall feeling was of quiet and repose with a calming color scheme that did indeed possess color but in a composition that unfolded subtly, not screamingly, paced by the beautifully forced and strategically located large trees.

I, along with thousands of other show attendees, was of course impressed by the many choice deciduous and conifer specimens used to create space in this garden, some of which were Pinus parviflora 'glauca' (the Japanese white pine) and P. p 'Ogon janome,' (a variegated form), a beautiful, large spreading beech, Picea omorika (the Serbian spruce), Thuja plicata 'Whipcord,' and forced maples, including Acer triflorum, with beautiful exfoliating bark. Being an aficionado is not a requirement for having some (few, or many) interesting trees on one's premises. You and I can purchase these selfsame trees.

But in addition to the full-sized, forced and evergreen trees, there was a fascinating mid-level of material to stimulate us out of the rut. Plants such as a beautifully forced perfumed daphne (variegated 'Carol Mackie,' I believe) a dwarf (!) gingko, Pinus thunbergii 'Thunderhead,' (a wonderfully green, compact Japanese black pine), unusual azalea 'Koromo Shikibu' with open-faced lavender flowers, and Picea abies 'Tompa,' (a small, conical, rockery type similar to a dwarf Alberta spruce.) Handsome clumps of various hostas mounded up and mounded down to continue the interest. H. 'Leather Sheen' took my eye: its heavy substance gives it reputed slug resistance.

Instead of the usual large-cup yellow narcissi, Miskovsky and Haskell chose masses of white triandrus 'Thalia.' Banks of echium, campanula glomerata 'alba,' and lunaria provided the background tapestry for choicer specimens such as the hostas, the variegated liriope, and several ferns, among which my eye was taken by Athyrium filix-femina 'Ghost,' which has great possibilities as a silvery green groundcover to light up dark corners. Tiny red primula 'Jay Jay' highlighted one of the garden entrances and Hakonechloa macra 'aureola' was also used to good effect. I loved this garden and hope that many Island gardeners were able to see it for the wealth of ideas it presented.

Mahoney's Nurseries did a luscious job with the outdoor decoration of the house interiors that ran like a spine down the center of the main exhibition space. They used an absolutely wonderful assortment of Tiarellas, Heucheras, and Heucherellas to add lots of interest to a garden that was primarily an extended area of decks. The assortment of containers planted with several striking oxalis cultivars demonstrated that these shamrock/clover look-alikes are worthy of greater use to create dramatic plantings up on the deck or porch itself. Striking too was the use of a plant that we'll be hearing a lot more about, the much-touted Sambucus 'Black Lace' - stunning if you have the right spot for it.

A reminder that the spring social and potluck supper of the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society will be held this Saturday, April 1, at 6 pm at the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society Hall, 35 Panhandle Rd. West Tisbury. All are welcome. The price of admission is a dish for six; it is hoped that your recipes will be attached, for inclusion in a future cookbook!