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Gold Border late Jun 2017 Ngoc Minh Ngo

Gold Border

September 3, 2020

For the past year, Susannah Strazzera, a Wave Hill gardener since April 2003, has been tending to the Gold Border, a bed that runs along the path leading past the Alpine House up to the Aquatic and Wild Gardens. By a very happy coincidence, this summer, Assistant Gardener Lana Guardo, who joined Wave Hill in January after stints at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Chanticleer and Longwood Gardens, was looking for a project to add to her responsibilities around the perimeter of Wave Hill House. She hoped it would include working with perennials. Strazzera suggested the Gold Border and Guardo signed on right away.

It’s all in a name. This seemingly unassuming strip of green space is, in fact, the subject of an entire chapter of Nature into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill. Here’s the space three years ago in early May, as captured by photographer Ngoc Minh Ngo for Nature into Art, and in early June this year by Strazzera. A more panoramic shot of the border, dating back to late June, 2017, is at the top of this email.

Gold Border early May 2017 Ngoc Ming Ngo
Ngoc Minh Ngo's portrait captures the look of the border in May 2017.
Gold Border early Jun 2020 Strazzera
This shot, taken by Strazzera in early June this year, shows a different scene.

Single-hued gardens, and the Gold Border is true to its name, turn out to be rather interesting. As Nature into Art author Tom Christopher points out, “‘Monochromatic’ may sound suspiciously like ‘monotonous.’ In fact, though, as this area of Wave Hill proves, a garden tuned to one hue can make a dynamic, even exciting, horticultural statement.” A single hue can lend it natural simplicity and harmony, Christopher points out, at the same time that it lets the expert display some sophistication. Spend some time with Strazzera and Guardo as they build a vision for the space, and you will soon agree that looks can be deceptive.

Gold Border two gardeners Sep 2020 IMG 5972
Strazzera (left) and Guardo (right) at the border.

Frequent visitors to Wave Hill may know that responsibility for garden areas shifts from gardener to gardener over time, and Strazzera has been responsible for the Gold Border, along with other garden areas, including the Alpine House, since last summer. “The first year,” she explains, “I devote myself solely to maintenance, getting to know the space, how it is impacted by sun, shade and weather and seasonal patterns, and how well the plants in the space get along with each other.” With the first year up this summer, she was ready to roll up her sleeves and start making some adjustments, and Guardo’s enthusiasm for the project was welcome.

Walk the border on your way to or from the Aquatic or Wild Garden, and you may notice that it looks a bit unruly these days. Even before the collaboration with Guardo started, Strazzera knew she wanted to simplify the plantings along the border, for a less crowded feel—and less maintenance. “I want space around the evergreens,” she adds, “so light reaches across and into the border, and you can appreciate both color and discreet shapes and groupings.” Simpler also means more massing—sweeps of color and less dramatic shifts in the height of what’s growing in the bed. And a color palette that reads golden from spring through fall.

As the pair of gardeners ponder the choices, they look at the entire border through the lens of a map that includes every possible plant under consideration—existing or new—for every season, and using a color-coded overlay for each season. Shown here is the tentative plan for summer, on the right, and spring on the left, of the full, pencilled-in map.

Gold Border Lana and Susannah maps Aug 2020
Susannah Strazzera and Lana Guardo (in the foreground) devote some time to studying and planning along the border.

The last shot here, taken from the same perspective, shows the editing process that is already underway as we move into September.

Gold Border 09 01 20 IMG 5901

With the Kerlin Overlook just steps away, this border is one space where the view is not driving the design. Instead, what this pair hopes for is that instead of a rush to get to the Wild or Aquatic Gardens, visitors find themselves slowing down as they pass by, savoring the harmonious blend of golden blossoms and leaves, interspersed perhaps with exciting splashes of purple and white.

For now, the two are intent on fleshing out a design plan for Senior Director of Horticulture Louis Bauer’s approval, and then they dig deeper into the gradual subtraction and addition that will result in a new look next spring. Thankfully, after many months of closure due to COVID-19, the gardens are open and we can all enjoy the thrill of watching their progress.