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Garden Variety


Nature feeds the soul. A recent study by Stanford University found that walking in nature had measurable health benefits and could even lead to a lower risk of depression. This gorgeous book, “Outstanding American Gardens“, (published by Abrams), brings the outside in, featuring some of the most beautifully natural places in America, as designed by man. We had a chance to speak to Laura Palmer, Vice President of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program, and producer of the book, about what makes a great garden.

Susan Burke’s Garden. Nantucket, Massachusetts. Photography by Marion Brenner.

Q: What is the definition of a garden?

That’s a tough question. It’s not what you’re going to see in Webster’s. Gardens are an individual expression of the owner: one that’s challenged by the elements, by luck, by chance. In the end, a garden is really a creative process and a living work of art that is never finished.

The Ruth Bancroft Garden. Walnut Creek, California. Photography by Marion Brenner.

Q: All these gardens are so unique. Some are very large, others are more intimate, what do you think unites them?

It is like art. When you see a particular piece of art, it can resonate in ways that you can’t define. Gardens are very much the same way. Some people go wild over plants, and in the book, you’ll see plant collectors and people who have thousands of different kinds of plants in their garden. Others are more about the design—some even include art in their garden. Many of them are out there digging in the dirt as often as they can, and others have more of a finished garden that doesn’t change that much in its dynamic, but it’s still very beautiful and historic too. What really unites them all is their wild enthusiasm for gardens, plants, flowers, design and for that creative process.

Rocky Hills. Mount Kisco, New York. Photography by Marion Brenner.

Q: What makes gardens important?

Gardens are a really positive thing in a world that can sometimes not be so positive. They’re restorative, they make people feel good, you’re outside. The act of gardening itself is so good for you. Henriette Suhr, who created Rocky Hills, lived to be 95 years old.

Cindy & Ben Lenhardt’s Garden. Charleston, South Carolina. Photography by Marion Brenner.

Q: What is your favorite plant?

I’m kind of a sentimental gardener. I like Calycanthus because it reminds me of my home in Pennsylvania, and it’s a very subtle, fragrant, beautiful plant.

Q: Where should a beginner gardener start?

Visiting gardens, and seeing examples of what other people are doing is really the best way to get started. Seeing a garden that’s very close to where you are, that has the same climate, that gets the same rain, and has all the same challenges that you will have as a gardener is most helpful. Support the local public gardens that are in your area, and go visit them. Their staff is always, without exception, really knowledgeable, and there are a lot of classes that can be taken locally in your community. You’ll also find access to good gardening information through blogs and magazines like Garden Design MagazineBetter Homes & Gardens, and Horticulture.

Want to see these stunning gardens for yourself? For a free ticket to an Open Days event near you, go to the Garden Conservancy’s site to learn more

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