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Gardenlust: Junto Farm in Hudson Valley, New York

by Timber Press on September 25, 2018

in Design, Gardening

The visual tension between this highly geometric “farmhouse” in upstate New York, which is open to the public on occasion for charity, and the plantings that flow around and beneath it is palpable and exciting.

Thomas Phifer and Partners; SE Group; Oehme, van Sweden  •  40 acres (16.2 hectares) • 2004

The architects, Thomas Phifer and Partners, placed a pure, rectangular main house wrapped in double-height glass on the crest of a hill and set four individual bedroom bunkers down and to the side, tucking them into the slope itself. On the approach up the entry drive, Oehme, van Sweden orchestrates a welcome that surrounds visitors with prolific waves of massed grasses and flowers that frame glimpses of the modernist house. Upon reaching the top of the property, the plantings dissipate in intensity, opening up the view, letting the house’s clean lines and the view be appreciated in their own right, and inviting new arrivals to take a big breath of fresh country air.

A short allée of London plane (Platanus ×acerifolia) trees underplanted with low, seasonal ephemerals matches the width of the main house, leading the eye on a direct procession toward the architecture while, to the west, a second allée of little-leaf linden trees (Tilia cordata) create a shady, formal bosque visible from the main living spaces inside. A plateau of uninterrupted lawn both highlights the distinctness of the volumes of the main house and bedroom areas and connects them. American modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley would surely have approved.

Oehme, van Sweden built its reputation partly on designing with ornamental grasses and prairie plants, and was among the first landscape architects to reintroduce the now-ubiquitous Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, which also appears on this property, and the robust black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’. The vigorous and fast-growing perennial Aconogonon ×fennicum ‘Johanniswolke’, a member of the knotweed family Polygonaceae, holds its own here. It grows up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) high and has creamy-white flowers. It is a strong plant and is of particular value when planted with red switch grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Haense Herms’) and short-toothed mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum).

Another robust plant, Sambucus ebulus, an herbaceous elderberry, features prominently. Robust is a kind word, because this plant spreads with enthusiasm. It has white flowers and pinnate leaves. The smell of the foliage is an acquired taste. Oehme liked it. It has now naturalized in New York State, and is not loved by advocates of native planting. This planting works because it complements the clean, strong geometry of the architecture without diluting it. It is possible to garden too much, muddling an original vision. The success of this garden comes from balancing an appealing but controlled exuberance with highly disciplined design.

 

Christopher Woods began his gardening life at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. He was director and chief designer of Chanticleer, and he has served as vice president for horticulture at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden; director of the Van Dusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada; executive director of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden; and director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Meadowbrook Farm.

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