Katharine White (wife of E. B. of you-know-what-fame) was a writer and fiction editor for The New Yorker magazine,1925-1960. Among her many accomplishments, she is remembered for her unique surveys of garden catalogs. She brought snappy language and an amateur gardener’s passion for the task, along with a side serving of personal observations. A description of planting lily bulbs with a crowbar in winter serves as one example. She follows the description of the predictably doomed experiment with a rueful account of a catalog put out by Jan de Graaff. Had she had it sooner she would have been wiser was her conclusion. (Those of us who garden have been there!)
Katharine S. White popped into my mind while groping for an appropriate way to toast the service of the Curators at the Dunn Gardens. Like the esteemed editor, Glenn Withey and Charles Price have a way with words.
Some background first. Glenn and Charles joined the Dunn Gardens staff in 1997 as interim curators. As they embraced the duties involved in keeping the legacy of an historic garden alive, proving their worth in the process, their position became long-standing. But, after 20 years they are leaving, feeling their legacy is safe in the hands of the new Director of Historic Preservation, Quill Teal-Sullivan.
Anyone who visits the Dunn Gardens is the beneficiary of their oversight. Gardeners of international standing are drawn to see the Dunn based on the reputation of the Withey-Price team, regular visitors are struck by the serenity of the preserved Olmsted Brothers-designed garden, and the docents who lead tours are mesmerized by the depth of understanding Glenn and Charles bring to the design and the plantings.
I first met the Curators as a docent. When I joined them in their twice yearly ID classes, I was delighted by the way they viewed the plantings; a glorious mix of reverence and irreverence. The reverence was evident in their fidelity to the Olmsted vision but also in the need to place a plant where it would be happiest. They were quick to move trees and shrubs for replanting that were not thriving, treating them almost as mobile entities. The irreverence popped up in their commentaries when giving the class: “This plant is a favorite for short dogs,” is a comment that stuck. And the same levity appears in their writings, sprinkled about the plant ID section of the Dunn Gardens website.
Below is a small sampler of some of the comments that surprise and delight in a wander through the plant information.
Charles and Glenn planted crocus bulbs on the Dunn property. They are a welcome sight when they peep through early spring, but as with most artistic endeavors have their own challenges. In their own words, here is a description of caring for Tommasini's crocus plants. “This early blooming crocus has been planted in the lawn immediately off the garden classroom (around 5,000 bulbs), and in parts of the 'Great Lawn'. This species is supposed to be squirrel resistant, and generally is. However, that does not stop the buggers from biting off the flower heads! After the plants have finished blooming, we wait six weeks before mowing, as the plants need time to pull energy down, for the following year. If you are anal retentive, we would not recommend 'naturalizing' this bulb in your lawn.... Selected forms range from white thru various shades of purple.”
Aster 'Little Carlow' is, in the words of the Curators: “Pretty much rain proof, it does need staking to prevent the dreaded belly flop, which occurs before a big garden tour/event/fundraiser. Clump forming.”
“Anemone blanda 'White Splendour' Commonly known as 'Grecian Windflower.' This plant performs best in a sunny, well-drained soil. Where we have it sited, the plant has multiplied, but in a good way (versus one of those, 'Oh my God' ways...).
It is possible to continue. But you get the idea. My particular favorite line comes from a description of a plant with the homely common name of Navelwort. “Omphalodes cappadocica 'Cherry Ingram' is a very nice selection of a very good plant. Native to Turkey this springtime bloomer covers itself with true blue flowers…. Don't divide this plant until well established, as it resents too much disturbance. Seedlings will occur, only in numbers to cause delight.
It is more than fair to say that Glenn and Charles have planted in the Dunn Gardens with an eye to causing delight. Their generosity in sharing their knowledge of the Olmsted garden they have tended so carefully over time has been appreciated by many. We wish them well as they head off this spring to design new eye-popping gardens, particularly their own, and thank them for their time, care and affection for the Dunn Gardens that has not flagged over twenty years. It is a worthy legacy.