Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gordon Hayward, one of the featured speakers at the upcoming symposium The Inspired Gardener , at the Atlanta Botanical Garden on Saturday, February 23, 2013, co- sponsored by the Georgia Perennial Plant Association and the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
I first met Gordon a number of years ago when we taped an episode of “A Gardener’s Diary” in his Vermont garden. I was inspired then and now, as I know you will be too, when your hear his lecture and see the beautiful images of his garden and others that he will share with us. What follows are highlights of the interview and photos of his garden, taken by Gordon.
Your lecture on February 23 is about integrating the home and garden. Tell us why you think this is important?
This lecture comes out of Hayward’s fifth book (he has written 11 design books), YOUR HOUSE YOUR GARDEN, published by WW Norton, Spring, 2003. The American Horticultural Society named this one of the top five garden books for 2004.
Too many Americans are perimeter gardeners, that is, comfortably gardening tight to the perimeter of the house and to the outer perimeter of the lawn. In between these two is a sea of amorphous lawn. People walk past their gardens, not into them. This style of gardening does not engage. With this approach to “design” we keep plants at a safe distance. This is a lecture on how to break out of this anonymous, safe, predictable pattern.
As garden designers, we are, above all, making places for people. Of course the individual plants are central to our work in a garden, but they are in the service of engaging people. By extending the spirit of the rooms of our house out into the garden wherever possible and practical, we link inside to outside, house to garden. We find we live in a house in a garden. And if we create a garden that looks good from inside and out 12 months a year, the garden refreshes us daily year round.
Are there any particular experiences that you had as a young person that you attribute to determining your career path and/or love of plants and gardening?
I grew up on an orchard (family-run) in northwestern Connecticut, which my brother runs today. Perhaps it was the straight lines of beautiful apple, pear and peach trees, well pruned, drooping with fruit, that got under my skin. It was a beautiful and hard working place with fabulous views of distant dairy farms and fields. Every summer from age 13 I worked part-time for friends of my parents in their gardens. I designed my first woodland walk at age 14. Every summer my brother and I would visit our paternal grandmother and our Aunt Rachel in Oyster Bay, Long Island for two weeks. They had a lovely, small garden as did my uncle Gordon who was also a good gardener.
The other story here is my parents and theirs’ stayed put and Mary and I have done the same. A good garden only comes with time and sticking to it.
Are there any people that were mentors for you when you first started out in the garden design business?
I taught high school English for 15 years, during which time I gardened for myself, and, increasingly, for clients. In the early 1980’s I wanted to turn full time to gardening so I asked Howard Andros, a friend then in his late 70’s, if I could meet with him to discuss plants. We met every Sunday morning at his 200 year old home in Walpole, New Hampshire for a year and a half. Howard grew up in Jamaica Plains, near The Arnold Arboretum. At the age of 11 he was following EH Wilson around the Arnold Arboretum on his Sunday morning tours. Howard went on to become a landscape designer and gardener in southern Vermont and New Hampshire for 45 years and became the major supplier in the country for the double bloodroot.
My other mentor was The Hidcote Manor Gardens near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, the famous gardens designed by the American, Lawrence Johnston. My wife Mary, who grew up on a farm literally across the fields from Johnston’s great 10 acre garden, and I lived in her village for a year during 1978-1979. Not may days would pass between visits to Hidcote, in all four seasons. In 1995 we bought a cottage about 5 miles from Hidcote.
What is the most important thing you recommend to someone that is a beginning gardener?
Visit gardens every chance you get. When in a garden, as much as you can, avoid value judgments because they shut down learning. Accept the garden on its terms. Take time with your visit. Conscious, thoughtful seeing will teach you a great deal. And ask “Why?” of everything you see. Compare the garden you’re in with others you’ve seen. And look to layout, mood, how atmosphere is created, how parts relate inward to the house, outward to the larger landscape. Then, as you begin to design your own garden, follow your own nose; trust your own instincts, consult your house and, as you do, lessons learned from gardens you’ve visited will help you solve design problems.
If you don’t already have patience, learn patience, or marry a fellow gardener who has it. I did.
How have you and your garden evolved since your first started gardening?
My view of our 1 ½ acre garden is now much more comprehensive. When Mary and I started making this garden in 1984, we were putting one foot in front of the other. The garden was our laboratory, the place where we taught ourselves about plants, design, maintenance. While we certainly had a sense of how we would create coherence across all the different areas we were creating, we were learning as we went. Now, after nearly 30 years on this ground, we’re seeing how parts relate to the whole. We’re also more patient with ourselves and the garden, and we’re willing to make wholesale changes. We’re not resting on any laurels. We tore up a 25 year old bed last year (40’ x 50’ or so) and have totally replanted it in the new naturalistic style, just to try our hand at it. Our garden has been our workshop, our place to learn about plants and design. We’re working 30-40-50 hours a week in the garden to keep it fresh, and to teach ourselves new things every day.
Mary and I also promise each other that every day we will walk into the garden, not to make guilt-producing work lists, but to walk and sit and appreciate a garden we’ve been developing for 28 years. At the outset we pretty much worked and worked and worked. We still do, of course, but we take more time now to appreciate. Howard Andros taught us that.
What is the best thing, for you, about gardening, what is the most challenging?
The best thing about gardening is the satisfaction of a job well done, the satisfaction of sharing the garden on open days with other gardeners, the satisfaction of supporting local organizations and charities as they hold fund-raising events in our garden. There is also the satisfaction that can only come from sticking with it, going out every day for 28 years to improve the garden, to keep the place up. But there is also the deep satisfaction that the garden, along with my writing, design work and lecturing, has given me an opportunity to express myself through my garden and to share that with many others.
But the satisfaction that trumps everything is the fact that Mary and I work so well together in this garden and that we have created this together. I treasure that fact.
The greatest challenge: This gardening business is a humbling affair. There is no end to what you can learn, what you should know. There is no end to what work you should be doing to get a garden right. And so the greatest challenge is to be patient with yourself.