Structuring Nature: Whole-property Landscape Design February 18, 2010 – Speaker Duncan Brine of Horticultural Design Inc., Pawling, N.Y.
Duncan Brine lives, gardens and runs his landscape business on six acres in Pawling, N.Y., the site of a former dairy farm. By the standards of most home gardeners, his is a large garden. And in his garden, he gardens largely, in a style he calls “structured naturalism.”
Marilyn Bethany, writing for www.ruralintelligence.com, described how he has shaped his property: “At once naturalistic and theatrical, Brine’s garden challenges every assumption…He confidently tosses together commonplace natives with rare and exquisite exotics, mass plantings with specimens, fine tuning each close-up but always with an eye to the big picture.
“His garden has no apparent edges: it flows, not so much from ‘room-to-room,’ as we’ve been taught a garden should, but from atmospheric eco-system to eco-system,” Bethany continued. “If this is theatre, it is in the round, not trapped inside a proscenium arch. At every turn, there’s a surprise, yet, in the end, it all seems inevitable, as if Brine got permission to bend nature to his whim.
Duncan specializes in whole-property landscape design. He discovers, protects and restores a landscape and its regional aspects while controlling invasive plants and reestablishing native plants. He bases design decisions on the characteristics of the site rather than on imported, conventional style or structure (although he has gained inspiration from traveling to traditional gardens in Europe and Asia).
Perhaps his view of gardening as art on a large scale derives from his early work as a filmmaker. A native of Rye, N.Y., he got the gardening bug when he renovated a plot behind his girlfriend (now wife) Julia’s home in Brooklyn as part of a film project.
He has said that to him a garden is like an unfolding narrative, discovered only by moving through space.
The Brine garden has been featured in many publications and books, including Scott Calhoun’s “Designer Plant Combinations” (Storey Publishing, 2008). Duncan opens his garden annually as part of The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. In the off-season, he is an instructor at the New York Botanical Garden and the New England Wild Flower Society.
If your garden is small, you might be tempted to think that Duncan’s garden, along with his “big-picture” views, holds little in the way of practical value for your circumstances. Think again.
A “gardening large” philosophy doesn’t necessarily relate to size, as Horticulture magazine’s Carleen Madigan Perkins observed in 2008. The philosophy embodies “the idea that an entire property, be it two acres or twenty, should be seen and treated as one garden…a series of interconnected spaces that reflect both the personal style of the creator and the history of the place,” she wrote.
To learn more about Duncan Brine, visit www.gardenlarge.com.