Musings on plants, gardens, travel, food and sex. Mostly plants and gardens.
A native of England a U.S. citizen for the past 30 years, I have worked in the garden world as a director and designer for over 35 years. I am best-known for my groundbreaking designs at Chanticleer, an estate and “pleasure garden” in Wayne, PA, where I worked for 20 years.
I started my gardening life at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England, where I was trained as a gardener. I worked in three other gardens in the UK, notably Portmeirion in Wales, Bateman’s in Sussex, and Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. At Bateman’s, I was responsible for the restoration of the 17th-century garden.
I came to the U.S. in 1981 and was director and chief designer of Chanticleer in Pennsylvania for the next 20 years. I transformed a moribund private estate into one of America’s most exuberant, romantic and flamboyant gardens. Its glorious 47 acres have been celebrated by gardeners and horticulturists from around the world and, based on my designs, it continues to draw international visitors every season.
After twenty years creating Chanticleer, I became vice president for horticulture for the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden and, in 2006, was appointed director of the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada. While pleased to be in Canada, my heart yearned for California and in 2008 he was appointed executive director of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. After a successful period in northern California, he returned to his home near Santa Barbara, CA where I operated my own design-consulting business.
In 2012, I was lured back east by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (founded in 1827) and appointed director of its private estate and garden, Meadowbrook Farm. I was commissioned by PHS to design the central feature for the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show, the third major exhibit I have designed for PHS over the years.
Among numerous other responsibilities, I have been a member of the board of the Fairmount Park Conservancy in Philadelphia and a founding member of the business advisory board for the Flora of North America Project. I have designed gardens in Chicago, northern and southern California, and throughout the Northeastern United States. I have also been a consultant to the Garden Conservancy and to Botanic Gardens Conservation International, as well as serving on the horticulture advisory committee of Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California.
I have been the Advancement Advisor for the Flora of North America Association and am now traveling the world researching, interviewing, and photographing for a book on gardens around the world.
Books & Awards
My n first book, The Encyclopedia of Perennials, was published in 1992 by Facts on File. I also contributed to 1001 Gardens to See Before You Die (Barron's Educational Series, 2012) and The Gardener’s Garden (Phaidon Press, 2014).
In 2003, I was awarded the Professional Citation for significant achievements in public horticulture by the American Public Garden Association. In 2007, The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society awarded me its prestigious medal for Distinguished Achievement.
I currently live in the Bay Area, California.
Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window, into which people look(while
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here)and
changing everything carefully
spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
and from moving New and
Old things, while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and
On a recent trip to Spain and Portugal I met some fine gardeners, saw wonderful gardens, and drank a little wine.
“Give me wine to wash me clean of the weather-stains of cares” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
In Barcelona, I came upon the Spanish version of New York’s High Line – The Elevated Gardens of Sants. Designed by architects Sergi Godia and Ana Molino. “The elevated gardens of Sants are part of an urban project that seeks to eliminate the urban barrier of the passage of the train tracks through the city of Barcelona. Instead of burying the infrastructure, the architects opted for its covering with a building-container, in whose cover the gardens are developed. This long and elevated space allows a 800-meter-long walk with fantastic views of the city.”
“The structure that holds up the building/container is comprised of prefab concrete parts in a sequence on a diagonal which adopts the shape of a great Warren beam evoking the old railway bridges, leaving large empty triangles that lend themselves to glazing them over to allow a view of the train passing through the city, reducing its acoustic impact to a minimum. Not fully glazing the building allowed three great green inclines to be built which rise from the lowest levels right up to roof level. These embankments “anchor” the building into its setting allow the roof vegetation to spill down to the lateral streets and support pedestrian ramps that provide a “natural” access to the roof.”
Chandigargh, a utopian dream city designed by Le Courbusier, is a spectacular failure except for one thing, Nek Chand’s Rock Garden.
In 1958, Nek Chand began collecting rocks and discarded and recyclable items from the demolition of the villages that once stood where the new city was being built. Chand built a world depicting village life, and a fantasy kingdom of palaces and pavilions. He did most of this at night after his work day was done.
Later, the Chandigargh Landscape Advisory Committee, who had planned to demolish the work, (ah committees), relented and allowed Nek Chand to open the Rock Garden to the public.
The Rock Garden was inaugurated in 1976 and is one of the most visited places in India.
A traveling companion and I traveled to Chandigargh specifically to see this masterpiece. We went twice in 24 hours, the first time in the afternoon. After a few hours at the site, we couldn’t speak. We went back to our hotel and to our respective rooms. Without dinner or conversation we retired. There were no words.
We went back the next morning. There are no words except words of gratitude. Thank you Mr.Chand, and thank you Marcia and Pradeep.
On a recent trip to Chile I discovered four important things that I believe are essential to well-being.
The first is oxygen. There seemed to be a short supply of the stuff as the country is experiencing its worst wildfire season in its history. Nearly 900,000 acres of forest are burning, turning the sky brown and, with excessive summer heat, making most of the country smell and feel like a bad barbecue. 5,000 people have been evacuated and 11 killed. It’s a terrible situation. The heat and the drought have been linked to climate change but I am an American and, under the new administration, apparently that particular scientific fact is no longer true.
Ignoring the bad news and being a self-indulgent tourist, I discovered the second, the breakfast of champions – Pisco Sour. This appears to be a drink made out of eggs and urine. Fortunately, it’s made out of brandy – Pisco – a grape brandy.
Here’s a recipe.
Pour pisco, lemon juice, sugar and egg white in a shaker with ice.
Shake and strain in an old-fashioned glass filled with ice.
Pour dashes of angostura bitters on the creamy drink.
One Pisco sour starts the day with a zing. Two adds a hallucinatory quality to the day and you start to see Inca deities at the end of the bar. Three ends the day rather quickly.
The third is ceviche. I don’t know the history of ceviche and after a couple of Pisco Sours, I couldn’t care less.
The fourth is flora, of course. The flora of Chile is rich in endemism. The Chilean wine palm, Jubaeachilensis, is almost gone from the wild but it is grown in gardens.
Chilean wine palms at Parque Explorador Quilapilún
In the Andes, the magnificent Puyachilensis, a terrestrial bromeliad, grows on rocky slopes. Its flowering is finished in late summer but it has a powerful presence in the scree and boulders 300-1000 m above sea level.
Here is a photograph, from a friend, of Puyachilensis in flower.
Good food and drink can be found anywhere but a plant in the wild is beyond ordinary pleasures.
My research and writing for a future book has taken up much of my time. Blogs get neglected when there are other things to do.
I would be remiss, at least in my own mind, if I didn’t post a few snaps.
I popped over to Laos and Cambodia recently. I went to Laos to see the brand new botanic garden Pha Tad Ke, near Luang Prabang. I intend to write more about this, the first botanic garden in the Laos PDR.
It is a 25 minute boat ride on the Mekong River from Luang Prabang to PTK.
Laos is a Buddhist, Animist, Socialist Republic.
Just 30% of the plants of Laos have been studied. Given that the country has one of the most diverse and profuse floras in the world, and slash and burn agriculture is devastating the countryside, there is much to do.
About 485 species of orchids are native to Laos. There well may be many more. The garden has collected 250 species mostly Bulbophyllum and Dendrobium and they are on display in two shade houses.
Looking across the Palm Collection to the range of mountains and limestone karsts.
Skeletonized leaves embroidered with gold thread.
Rik Gadella, the garden’s creator, founder and general manager is an extraordinary man with an extraordinary vision. He and his staff are creating one of the most important and beautiful gardens in the world. Go there.
I then followed the Mekong to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to Angkor Wat, Prasat Pram, and the great wetland of Tonle Sap.
Thousands of tourists get up before dawn to see the sun rise over the temples. Once the sun is risen they seem to spend about half an hour wandering around and then head back to their hotels for breakfast.
I, being better than that, spent a couple of hours there. Self-righteous eco-voyeurism is such fun.
I preferred Prasat Pram,a complex of five temples built in the 10th century, three of which are extant. There were few people there.
One of the temples is built of brick.
The glory of these temples is the tree roots that wrap themselves around the buildings.
On, then, to the great wetland of Tonle Sap where we tourists are taken in longboats to peer at people in the floating villages.
Beyond the village is the wild wetland. Full of rare birds. Spot-billed Pelican, Oriental Darter, Greater Adjutant and Painted Stork. And plants – Barrintonia acutangula, Croton caudatus, Dalbergia pinnata ,to name three.
What an honor to be there. To see all of it. Even ever so briefly.