Berkshire Garden Style: Intentional, Wild and Unexpected
A couple of weeks ago I shared with you my story. Now you have an idea of who I am and where I came from. You have an idea of why I do what I do and my passion and vision for creating a garden-style which is uniquely Berkshire. Today I want to share with you the beginnings of some of the finer details of Berkshire garden style. What is it really? How does it look? The first piece of creating a garden - Berkshire garden style - is to place it within the context of the surrounding environs and underlying bedrock. The Berkshires is a place with wild environs, forests, small rolling hills - a place where a child can discover a red eft in their backyard and an adult can rediscover that childhood joy and unexpected delight in a walk through one of our numerous tracts of preserved wild land. I grew up amongst this wildness. It was my childhood home, and I established my adult life here after a period of time spent in my birthplace of Southern Oregon.
The complexity of the wildness is what makes the Berkshires accessible and discoverable. The soil structure of the Berkshires, a matrix of compacted clay derives from sand, gravel and boulders. It is the till left behind after the retreat of the glaciers. Such geologic history informs the structure both chemical and physical that makes up the soil of the Berkshire gardens. Berkshire hills date back to 500 million years ago, some of the world’s oldest mountains! When our continents were joined the soil in the Berkshires sat at the intersections of these joints. Over time the bedrock was changed (metamorphosed) by pressure and heat giving way to the rocks we see today. The bedrock today in the Berkshires contains a range of acidity. You will find more acidic soil in gardens where the underlying bedrock is quartzite and more alkaline soils in gardens where the bedrock is limestone and/or marble. Where there is a range in Ph there is a difference in which plants grow best and in the variety of animal life present in each garden.
Soil is formed from the process of weathering be it chemical, biological or physical. Most of us are familiar with physical weathering where wind, water, rain or glacial activity/freeze and thaw processes break down bedrock into soil. The Berkshires are primarily home to loamy soil. This soil is ideal as a mixture of sand, silt and clay. Within the area however we do have variation from garden to garden. In the southernmost parts of the county you will find a greater proportion of sand in the soil composition. The region’s hydrological variations are also of note and you will find rainfall variations from one garden to the next. Because of the rolling hills, garden proximity to a valley bottom will bring greater rainfall.
So how do all of these geological and historical conditions inform my garden style? To be here in the Berkshires is to be walking through a meadow or a forest and to feel both wild and safe simultaneously. The Berkshires welcomes you; a garden in the design of Berkshire Garden Style greets the resident, the visitor - be they four footed, winged or biped - with the intentional juxtaposition with the wild-unexpected. The woodland edge- wild and unexpected co-exists alongside the cultivated garden and sometimes it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. Trees are thoughtfully pruned and at the right time of year so that their branches continue to blow in the breeze. Plants in Berkshire Garden Style play together like young children laughing and running wild through a sprinkler. In September, you will see the hyssop popping out just above the nepeta on a stone walled garden or the thalictrum sprays towering above vibrant dahlias interplanted with annual Verbena bonariensis. In the understory you may see hayscented fern or asters running wild. You may find seersucker sedge peeking out from beneath buxus, allowed to grow and soften after shaping. All of these intentional elements of design remain authentic to the wildness and geological history of the Berkshires. Everywhere you look in a garden of BGS design you see intention co-existing alongside wildness. I invite you to open your eyes to the possibilities of co-existence, plant pairing and the symbiotic nature of the flora, fauna and soils in your garden.