Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Brooklyn Botanics

Whilst in New York recently, I made a visit to Brooklyn Botanic Garden, one of two good botanic gardens in the city of New York. A short trip on the subway and I arrived at one of the most derelict and disgusting subway stations ever, only enlivened by the seedling Davidia in the unused line one side of the plaform - what a weed!  Actually being generous, I have to say someone had enlivened the exterior of the station with a great mural.

I crossed the road and entered the garden through a new entrance. Two people behind the ticket desk and a security guard six feet further in to check the tickets - must be expecting a huge crowd of unruly visitors,  I thought. And this was a new secondary entrance, not the main one. And so I explored the garden and what a mixed experience it was, distinctly disappointing from my last visit. On the positive side, there was development. A new Discovery Garden - very obviously targeted at children - OK good idea but of limited interest to me. There was also a huge area being fenced off for a new water conservation garden, obviously due for construction. Good forward thinking!

But the rest of the garden looked tired, neglected and generally run-down. This was early August and yet the garden looked autumnal. Flowers had faded, weeds were evident everywhere and there were very few gardeners on duty. Such a pity to spend so much on development that the routine maintenance of the garden declines. 

Palm House - empty - used for events only

A typical border in the rose garden

A garden feature?
Anyway - a few pics of things that caught my eye, in particular a good exotic border which in fact was a monocot demonstration.

After a brief visit I started to make my way out planning to stop at the new restroom by the new entrance - you guessed - it was closed, so I had to walk back to the center of the garden for the nearest facility! Maybe next time I'll visit the New York Botanic Garden.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Will Giles - exoticist extraordinaire

Fortunately I have never had to post an obituary on this blog until now. Many gardeners will know, Will Giles sadly died on 2 September 2015, having battled with cancer for two years.  I have known Will for about 20 years, visited his garden on many occasions and enjoyed his hospitality, quirky humor and impressive knowledge of plants. When I first knew Will he was running a botanical illustration business and his exotic garden was a hobby. As the digital age took over, botanical illustrations were less popular and Will's garden developed, becoming in many ways his business as well as his passion. Sadly I did not get to visit Will or his garden this summer.

Coffee in the polytunnel with Will - last time we met.

Walking round Will's garden in the summer was like a whirlwind world tour in a couple of hours with plants from all round the globe, growing successfully in the middle of Norwich city center.  Huge banana trees punctuated the skyline with rustling bamboos, whilst Spanish moss and epiphytic  bromelliads hung from old apple trees. Colorful cannas jostled with agapanthus, heleniums, persicaria and brilliant gerbera. And everywhere amazing foliage; Ricinus, colcasia, coleus, tree ferns, grasses and houseplants such as monstera. If it was big, bold and exotic, Will would grow it!

Will was also a great architect and builder adding many whimsical structures to his garden. His tiny rustic summerhouse was originally in the neighbouring garden and due for demolition but Will reprieved it and with the help of several local heavy guys moved it into his garden. Although I was invited, I never actually slept in his tree house, although I admired this amazing structure, nestled amongst the branches of an old oak tree with amazing views over the Norwich rooftops.  Then his grotto and cascade, starting at a round pool at the top of his garden, water falls over a mossy wall of old flints into a basin at the bottom, two storeys below. 

My own favorite was the Italianate loggia set amongst his Mediterranean garden, built at the top of the hillside behind his house.This garden full of spikies and cacti deserves a special mention. Trying to grow arid plants in the wet and cool British climate is a huge challenge but one that Will met with his usual enthusiasm. Even when the tough winter of 2011 killed many specimens, he wasn't daunted but replanted with a newer, tougher range.

Will was also an artist. Throughout the garden, there are small pieces of artwork, sculptures or just quirky items, like the headless and armless statue of a lady,  tucked in a niche. And of course arranging plants in beautiful combinations is an art itself.

I have no idea what will happen to this beautiful and iconic garden. Already it has closed. Such a garden relies on a heavy input of labour and a huge investment, maintaining exotic plants, coaxing them through the winter and replanting many each season. I doubt there is anyone who would have the time, energy, knowledge and cash to continue with this. If this garden disappears, it will be a loss but the even greater loss must be Will Giles, a great gardener and good friend.