An American Garden

What is an American Garden? No, I'm not seriously seeking a definitive answer- the subject is probably broader than this continent and as diverse as the many origins of its people, not to mention the shifting influence of time, place and circumstance. It is a question however that surfaces every now and again for me, and I enjoy the trail of discovery it generates - most recently on discovering this book The American Flower Garden by Neltje Blanchan which I've added to the vintage book collection here.

She certainly has me at hello- the opening chapter kicks off with a quote from Wordsworth that ponders if gardening can be considered a liberal art of some kind and then gets into the subject of the partnership between Nature and Art. Certainly in terms of underlying principles I am in tune with the views of this writer from a century ago and am actually surprised at the overall emphasis on natural-ness and subtlety. The image above is the opening image in the book which demonstrates this well.

Not quite the same feeling of being in tune after reading a thought provoking post on Garden History Girl about personal landscapes. Her reaction to the walls of Sissinghurst were quite different from mine. She writes about her urge to 'tear down the hedges' preferring 'the vista, the wide view to the sky' of her native prairie home. For sure, there's definitely an innate British tendency for privacy but there's also a sort of underlying gardening philosophy or strategy to maximize the possibilities of what you can grow in a space. A lot of gardening literature that the novice English gardener soaks up encourages the use of walls as additional vertical space as well as their use in creating protected micro climates and enhanced growing situations - one London gardener I knew successfully grew a fig tree against a sunny southern wall.

For me, the Sissinghurst walls suggested one more thing- they defined a canvas. They outlined the scope and the limits of a creative endeavour. I think its this most of all that has been challenging in developing ideas for the Mamaroneck garden. Its a quintessential American suburban garden that is sizeable but mostly completely open. The borders are lightly defined and hardly any of it is not viewable from the main or side street. My natural design instinct is to want to divide it up into 'rooms' and develop each one with an interesting idea or point of view. I've learnt however over many years of enjoying this garden that, that just wouldn't be right in its context. It's also not how it functions. It wants to be open to the traffic of children and the view of passing neighbours to wave to and greet. To restrict access or views would just be plain wrong- if not downright un American here in the hometown of Norman Rockwell.

I'm hoping to explore this subject further this summer, I really want to visit a few more gardens, I've got the Garden Conservancy and the American Garden Museum site bookmarked for this purpose. Take a look at their current online exhibition of images of American gardens from a gardeners scrapbook.

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