Along the coast of Maine as we are readying for Christmas, our outdoor cultivation has come to a screeching halt as the ground is covered by a foot and a half of snow. To add emphasis to this being the time of the shortest days of the year, a half inch of ice fell the past couple of days, making a nice, preserving crust on the snow.
For a gardener, this is a time of planning, organizing, and preparation. For me, I am in search of a theme for next year’s garden designs at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. We are redesigning our entry walk, areas around our entry lawn, plus seasonal displays throughout the gardens. In looking for inspiration, I start running through the usual candidates: Victorian carpet bedding schemes, Beatrix Farrand with her free-flowing perennials, Roberto Burle Marx and his massive flows of bright colors, and Piet Oudolf’s visions of grass inflorescences dancing with salvias and alliums.
The problem is that all of this has been done before. Most gardens are looking to replicate one of these designers or some variant of their designs. Part of the reason I came to Maine was to be at a young garden where we could do things differently. Part of doing this is to learn which plants will survive and which plants will struggle. I learned last summer that tropicals that thrive in the south and mid-Atlantic, will sit around like a dozing dog all summer, only to peak in mid-September as the summer crowds have moved back to their occupations which afford them the ability to summer in Maine.
Long-story made short, I started thinking about what kind of home interiors I like the best and was drawn to the furniture of Hans Wegner. If money were no object and we did not have 4 kids, our home would be an assemblage of Scandinavian modern design. Aha, that is when I began searching for Scandinavian garden design. We share somewhat similar climates and short summers, I thought, so the plants and designs might be worth investigating.
Right now, I am poring through the gardens of Ulf Nordfjell. Nordfjell has a simple aesthetic with clean lines and blocks of plants. The colors are subtle and used with restraint, when used at all. Like a Wegner wishbone chair, the look is easily understood yet relaxed and comfortable. Nordfjell entered gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show in London in 2007 and 2009. I saw his garden from 2007 in person and thought it was brilliant. All of the other gardens seemed to be competing with one another to have the largest structures and plants just appeared to be filling in the gaps. Nordfjell’s garden was structured around the plants. From what I recall it used green, white, and a bit of purple for color. Not the garish combinations of his competitors. He won a gold medal for this garden only to come back in 2009 to take a Best in Show award.
The challenge in the coming weeks is to figure out how to take this inspiration and make it fit our existing context. The lines of our gardens are more organic and curving. Our guests are drawn more to color than shades of green, grey, and white. I will continue looking through his designs, reading about his inspirations, and then coming up with plant combinations that are our own.
How about you? How do you design? Who are your inspirational designers? What cool things are you thinking of trying to pull off for 2014?