2018 was a wonderful year of visiting gardens. We took three trips; a short spring trip to Atlanta, GA, a six-week road trip through the US, and a 30-day fall trip to England. Looking over my journals and photos of the past year it is full of memorable moments of the beauty in our world. I want to share a few marvels that delighted me along the way.
For the first day of spring, we traveled to Gibbs Garden in northern Georgia. We came to experience the blooming of some 20 million Daffodils planted in this garden, and it was snowing when we arrived! Spring travel in the Northern Hemisphere gives me a chance to breathe in my fill of Lilacs, Daffodils, and Peonies, and this year I had a feast of flowers. These flowers are firmly embedded in my childhood memories beginning my lifelong love of flowers.
In mid-May, we set out on a road trip from our AZ garden to the Canadian view of Niagara Falls. We made many stops along the way visiting 42 gardens. This trip marked the completion of visits to gardens in all 50 US states.
Which states offer the best gardens? In my opinion, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and California are the best.
In addition to some remarkable gardens, our road trip included Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water in PA and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company Headquarters in downtown Pittsburg as two major architectural highlights.
Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, MI is 158 acres of amazement. As we wandered through a bronze sculpture of a face was getting a beauty treatment. A young man was carefully waxing the bronze giving it a luminous shine.
All these sculptures stand out of doors in all kinds of weather and maintaining their beauty generally happens without our notice. I was struck by the importance and care of this basic maintenance.
The most significant sculpture in this garden is The American Horse brought to form by animal sculptor, Nina Akamu. The work was inspired, in part, by a work created by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci for the Duke of Milan in the late 15th century. Made of bronze and standing 24 ft. (7.3m) in height, it is a stunningly beautiful sight. The story behind it is long and fascinating, but just to see it, and be in its presence, is truly unforgettable. The muscles, the pose, the perfection, make it a most memorable moment.
Glass in the Garden
Dale Chihuly has accessorized gardens with his glass art for decades. I have enjoyed his work in many gardens during my travels. In the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburg, PA, there is glass in shades of purple and chartreuse displayed with purple sweet potato vine, foxtail asparagus fern, and the ZZ plant, (zamioculcas zamiifoliathese.) This is the best integration of glass and plants I have ever seen. The glass is gorgeous, and the horticultural genius who matched the foliage to it is an artist. The desert section of the conservatory has a yellow starburst shape hanging above starburst agaves, a perfect placement of glass art and plant. Both of these combinations were the ultimate in artful gardening.
Irwin Gardens, Columbus, IN
I found a formal Italian garden in Columbus, IN. J. Irwin Miller, head of Cummings Diesel, turned Columbus into an international architectural wonder. Irwin Gardens (Grandfather was a banker) was designed in 1910 based on the inspiration of Pompeii. There is a sunken garden, topiary, roses, urns, and statues of Greek philosophers with their words inscribed.
A tea house of Roman-Pompeian design and decoration sits at the top of the stairs to provide a restful viewing spot for a view back to the Victorian Mansion, home to the Irwin family until 2009.
A bronze elephant was added in 1904 and a nod to the Japanese influence from the World’s Fair. In short, it is a remarkable garden to explore. We stayed two nights in the Irwin Garden bed and breakfast giving us plenty of time to enjoy the gardens and the city.
We flew to England in mid-September for a late summer look at English Gardens.
The Royal Horticultural Society
We went to Wisely Gardens, a 240-acre inspirational garden of the Royal Horticultural Society. It has everything; grand conservatories, plants of every type, trial gardens, arbors, art, garden rooms, rocks, hills, and stories. We arrived at opening and left in the dusk of closing, wanting to stay longer. Here I saw Bonsai trees responding to the season, the leaves on these artful miniatures were a tiny forest of orange, red, and gold.
Wisely created a hillside bog where I saw pitcher plants thriving in varieties of colors, sizes, and shapes I’d never seen before. Pitcher plants, carnivorous plants that eat flies, gnats and lacewings, are generally found inside a conservatory. These were beautiful and looked so perfect growing within the wet crevices between the rock.
Along the River Thames
Eton College in England has architecture, history, and gown-robed young men hurrying to chapel. Waking along this famous river I was distracted by a side street of flowers, grouped in pots and hanging baskets, the blooms still resonate in my memory. Nearly as beautiful was a string of boats floating out from under a bridge in the late afternoon.
Nyman’s on a misty morning
As we headed out to visit Nyman’s garden, it was drizzly, overcast, and the morning traffic (on the left side of the road) added to the gloom of the day. We were convinced this was going to be a disappointing day at the garden. When we arrived, there were four police cars in the parking lot; surely a bad sign.
Still, we ventured out, wandering into Nyman’s garden, the home of the artistic Messel family, a family I’d never heard of, but eager to discover their story. The rain stopped, and suddenly everything sparkled with raindrops as the sun peaked from behind the clouds. Nyman’s estate includes a rather grand house which is open to tour and a stone ruin shell of the original house. We discovered family drama, grand artistic ventures, and a beautiful garden. We visited with keen local gardeners. But the magic was the fog, the mist, and the glistening raindrops. Just look at the spider webs, the flowers, the sky, the stone.
We toured the inside of the house and we entered to the sounds of classical piano music. A few minutes later we found the pianist playing a grand piano. I estimate her age to be at least 90, and her playing was wonderful. Later as we were leaving the parking lot, we saw her walking home. My first thought was to offer her a ride and then I realized this is her gift, playing the piano, walking to and from her home to the garden, and how wonderful it is for everyone involved. This was the entire day; a surprising gift. When we began, we thought it would be a cold, miserable day, yet it turned out to be a most memorable experience of English weather in a beautiful garden
Whichford Pottery & Jim Keeling
I do a program entitled, “Potting up Plants, the illustrated story of the history and fashion of flowerpots.” I do love flower pots, in all forms, colors, and materials, absolutely love them. Part of my research included reading Jim Keeling’s book, “Flowerpots.” He tells his story of Whichford Pottery which he opened in 1972. He writes about learning the skill of throwing pots, finding the raw material from the ground, perfecting the mix of clay, creating designs, and the art of bringing the pots to life with plants.
He writes of the skillful potters who hand make the pots sold all over the world today. We visited his factory north of the Cotswolds. We wandered among the completed pots in the yard, watched the potters rolling the clay, applying the designs, and loading the kilns.
I met Jim and had a chance to tell him how much I admired his pots. The pots are solid, durable, and beautiful. I managed to squeeze a small one into my luggage to fly back to the states, a bit heavy, but I have one!
On this trip, I was hoping to see a particular piece of obscure artwork, and I did. In my program “Masterpiece Gardens, heart art & flower,” I begin with the idea that as humans we have wanted to create gardens with the same elements since the first gardens were made. The evidence of this is a small slab of an Egyptian wall painting, from Nebemaun’s Tomb, which shows water, birds, fish, potted plants, fruit trees, and a “picnic” in the scene.
I walked into the British Museum, (a massive repository of remarkable items) went to the information desk and said I wanted to go to the gallery which exhibited this 3000-year-old artifact. The museum employee typed in the name of the piece, found its location and directed me to gallery # 61. Several minutes later, there I was looking at the piece of Egyptian tomb that began, for me, the definition of a beautiful garden. Museums are amazing!
We traveled for eleven weeks this year and visited 90 new gardens. The beautiful, exciting moments really are endless. It is a wonderful way to travel because I genuinely believe the best view of our world is through a garden. I hope your resolutions for the new year include visiting a garden. We’re starting the coming year in the Southern Hemisphere with a nearly six-week trip to South America. Thank you for traveling along.