ARTiculture. And the coveted Fuchsia Ribbon goes to...

Since the final day of the Philly Flower Show is coming up on Sunday, it’s high time to announce the winner of this year’s Fuchsia Ribbon. That way you still get to see the winning display. If you hurry. This coveted award is passed out annually
to my own personal favorite in the show. By me. There’s no gold statuette of St. Fiacre. No silver trug full of garden swag. Just personal thanks for the best. For making me smile. For making me wonder. For making me think.

So, without much further delay, the 2014 Fuchsia Ribbon goes to...

James Basson of Scape Design, installation by Stoney Bank Nurseries! The award-winning design was inspired by an untitled painting by Albert Diato in the private collection of Albert Prince of Monaco, displayed on an easel at the front. Or at least a reasonable facsimile of it out front.

Wha...? It’s... um... how do I put this kindly... not exactly the kind of garden you might expect at a spring flower show. Where are the tulips? The daffodils? The azalea bushes yearning to burst free? There aren’t any. Nope. There isn’t even anything green. Some might say the display is full of dried weeds.

And some did. As the perplexed guy standing next to me said to his wife, who was mostly surprised to learn that Albert of Monaco was the son of Philadelphia’s own princess, Grace Kelly. He couldn’t have been more wrong. About the garden, that is.

Look closely and you see a native meadow of subtle golds and browns and silver grays graced by plants such as Panicum virgatum “Squaw’, Aquilllea millefolium ‘Paprika’, Pycanthemum muticum and Eryngium yuccifolium. What I want to know is how Stoney Bank Nurseries managed to get this dried meadow inside—or at least again create a reasonable facsimile of one—without the plants crumbling to dust. That’s an awesome achievement in itself.

Back to the painting. The official interpretation has the artist’s solitary path dry and uninviting. A burnt out log as his seat. The arc of a stucco wall as a stay in Afghanistan, The silver bowl, the Mediterranean Sea. The gold, the region’s bright light. Wow. Thanks. Interesting. But that’s a lot of symbolism crammed into something so simple and visceral. I skipped over most of it because it wasn’t really so relevant to how I was reacting to the garden itself. Or even to the painting that inspired it. Glossy gold and silver-leaf panels usually mostly remind me of contemporary decor in Miami. Sorry Alberts. Nothing personal. It just isn’t my taste.

However, what I took in from Basson’s design and evocative reinterpretation was something exceptionally different. Something almost medieval, in fact.

No hostile path through this garden, I felt myself drawn into a mille-fleurs tapestry waiting to spring to life as I sat, not so much on a dark burnt log, but on a turf bench enclosed by the far wall. You know the golden brown will resurrect into color and green. The tall plants are proof of that. Their dead stems wouldn’t be there otherwise. They’re just suspended in time waiting for the sweet kiss of spring water to waken them. In a couple of months they’ll be alive and birds will come. Butterflies, too. Rabbits will dance through the grass. Serene lords and ladies might amble by. Rest beside you a moment, like so many butterflies that briefly land in the meadow to slowly fan their wings as they sip from the wild flowers, then flit off to their own nimblings in some stone hall. Who knows? A unicorn might even wander into this enchantment and dip down its wreathed horn to purify the silver pool as I sit mesmerized and still.

This is a garden both moving and transporting. Not dead and hostile. It’s simply dormant and will waken as much to the rain, as to the imagination.

Don’t miss it.


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