Thomas Christopher | Be-A-Better-Gardener: World class garden designer finds 'the Essence of a Place'

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Growing up in England, Arne Maynard was introduced to gardening early. He recalls as a small child following his grandfather around the vegetable garden, and his child's distress at the thinning of a row of carrots. He couldn't rescue those seedlings, but Maynard, as an adult and a garden designer of international fame, is still driven by a visceral connection to plants. Indeed, that will be the subject of the Winter Lecture, "The Planted Garden," that he will deliver for the Berkshire Botanical Garden at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at the Duffin Theater, Lenox Memorial Middle/High School in Lenox.

In his expert plantsmanship, Maynard is very much in the English gardening tradition. This tradition has its liabilities; it's easy for such a plant-oriented garden to devolve into a tangled botanical menagerie. Maynard, however, achieves a difficult balance. Trained as an architect, he structures his gardens carefully with strong axes of paths and vistas, as well as hedges and walls. Not uncommonly, Maynard even structures the plants themselves, for the inclusion of such disciplined specimens as topiaries and espaliers is something of a trademark of his work. Too much formality can seem chilly or artificial, but not when Maynard envelops it out with lush, romantic plantings of flowers. It is this contrast, the contrast of formal and informal, that gives his designs, large and small, such energy and drama. This is a skill from which any gardener, professional or amateur, can benefit.

Other influences are also evident in Maynard's work. He has a fine eye for materials, preferring such natural ones as timber and stone, and a discriminating eye for the details of such constructed elements. And he draws on a wide range of influences in his design, from his studies of garden history, interior design, and traditional crafts and techniques. Likewise, his gardens are always a collaboration, for he never imposes on the landscape, but rather strives to distill in each garden the essence of its place, so that the garden relates and responds to its setting. One device Maynard routinely applies is to study the natural plant palette of the region and, in his planting, take his cue from that. Consequently, a Maynard garden in the Hamptons of Long Island takes a very different form from the landscape with which he encloses a Norman manor house in Oxfordshire, England.

In contrast to the standard process of garden design, which tends to start at the house and work outward, Maynard likes to start with the wilder edges of any garden he is creating. The meadows, waterways or woods with which he defines these areas may be delineated and separated from their surroundings with nothing more than a fence or hedgerow. Moving inward, Maynard gradually introduces more cultivated plants — thus, a woodland may become infused with bulbs, and flowering meadows give way to perennial borders, rose gardens, a kitchen garden, and seasonal pots and containers. The best designs, Maynard maintains, are those which are planted from the outside in.

When Maynard speaks, he draws a crowd, and those who wish to attend this lecture are advised to register in advance at berkshirebotanical.org, or by calling the Berkshire Botanical Garden, 413-320-4794. Walk-ins will be welcomed as space permits, and the snow date is set for Feb. 3. Admission to the lecture is $35 for members of the Berkshire Botanical Garden or $45 for non-members. Group discounts for six people or more are available.    

Be-a-Better-Gardener is a community service of Berkshire Botanical Garden, located in Stockbridge. Thomas Christopher is the co-author of "Garden Revolution" (Timber press, 2016) and is a volunteer at Berkshire Botanical Garden. berkshirebotanical.org.


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