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June 15-30, 2008


DIRT

The Modern Garden
By Dianne Benson

SLEEK AND SHARP OR A QUIET GRANDEUR—WHAT MAKES A GARDEN MODERN?

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Even though the pervasive show-offy quality in our society today is current, that trait does not necessarily make for a garden that is up-to-date or, well, modern. Placing modernism in a historical context, as endless art arguments about keeping the modern in the MoMA attest, is not modern anyway. So, just what might a modern garden actually be?

Does it mean eco-friendly or does it mean stark and sharp? Can a garden be modern if it is embellished with trees of several generations? Does old-fashioned mean not modern? Not necessarily. By its very cyclical and unpredictable nature, a garden is timeless and is about constant transformation. One of the pleasure pinnacles of any sort of gardening is that it is not constant. And though I am not a proponent of instant gardens, you can embellish or deconstruct your patch at will to give it soul and evolve as you do. Much like Daphne Merkin's interpretation of Madonna's love affair with the Kaballah—it doesn't have to be forever. Keep the old trees, yes, and concentrate on your garden's bones, but keep your garden alive by being involved in it, changing it, and constantly learning about it.

Nurturing is one of gardening's best aspects, and what could be more 21st century? Call me crazy, but I get no greater thrill than seeing the leaves of, say, Sanguinaria canadensis unfurl. This plant, commonly called bloodroot and not very popular (though I don't know why), emerges in late spring in a silvery green tightly bundled whorl, and then unrolls like a scalloped flag, producing the most delicate cup-shaped white flower. Having searched to find it to begin with and planting it in a special spot where I could watch it carefully for months of waiting, I feel like its mother. In the big picture, the greening of the planet has created the greatest surge in history of tending to all things growing. Words like woody, native, sustainable and—I can hardly bear to hear it anymore—organic are on the tip of everyone's trowel. What could be more modern, individually and collectively, than rearing our own special bloodroots to advance our environment?

Are modernism and minimalism the same thing? Both are inherent in the Oriental garden—where the techniques and elements reek of both.

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