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Quick Takes With: Lindsey Taylor

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Quick Takes With: Lindsey Taylor

June 9, 2024

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We’ve enjoyed garden designer Lindsey Taylor‘s way with both words and flowers since 2013, when she was a contributor to this site. Recently, we admired her rambunctious cinderblock garden, teeming with tough, hard-wearing beauties, in Newburgh, NY, where she’s based. And just this past fall, we were captivated by her new book, Art in Flower, which collects 40 of the elegant floral arrangements she designed for her monthly Wall Street Journal column, “Flower School.” Each composition is paired with a famous work of art, as well as a short explanation of how the masterpiece inspired her design. It’s a telling conceit: For Lindsey, plants are her paints, and the garden, her canvas.

Her chosen medium is 3D and multi-sensory. “I once visited a garden designed by a very famous designer I like. I couldn’t figure out why I felt so uncomfortable in it until I realized that even though everything was blooming, there was no sound. No buzzing of insects or birds,” Lindsey recalls. “I later found out the client insisted on having the garden sprayed for bees (they are allergic), ticks, and mosquitoes. It was claustrophobic to be in and devastating to experience such a great landscape of pollinator plants in silence.”

Below, a portrait of an artist as a garden designer.

Photography by Lindsey Taylor, unless noted.

Above: “I have a natural tendency to let plants mingle and weave together, and duke it out amongst themselves. I like to tinker away at my own garden, as if it was a large never-finished abstract painting. I stand back, study it and keep going back in, adding a slash of color here and removing a brush stroke there—and eventually it all starts to sing together as it matures.” Photograph by Ngoc Minh Ngo.

Your first garden memory:

Picking daffodils with my Granny at their farm outside of Toronto. Narcissi and the many varieties to grow are really a favorite, particularly species and ones with finer foliage.

Garden-related book you return to time and again:

The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett, and The Education of a Gardener by Russell Page.

Instagram account that inspires you:

To name a few, John Little’s @grassroofco; Peter Shear’s @petershear; Edwina von Gal’s @perfectearthproject; and Dan Pearson’s @coyotewillow.

Describe your garden aesthetic.

Above: In a walled garden in Hudson Highlands designed by Lindsey, a Damson plum tree enjoys a soft landing.

A garden needs to have a soul. It needs to move in the wind, change, have fragrance, feed the birds and other insects and critters, and breathe. When I visit a garden where too much control and need for perfection is in play, I find it unpleasant to be in. If it’s sprayed or watered to stay alive, or if it’s at odds with its environment, I’m not interested. All plants, of course, need a helpful hand with watering and weeding to get established in the first few years, but my goal is to let them sort it out happily on their own once they’ve settled in.

Currently in my own garden I’m healing the land from a recent building construction project. My objective is to merge the line between the cultivated and the natural areas and have the house sit quietly as if it were dropped from the sky and nestled in. I’m working with the existing soil, planting tightly to avoid bringing in mulch and using only wood chips from dead trees we had to clear on the property.

Plant that makes you swoon:

Above: Tall Angelica gigas.

Plants with fragrance. Plants that sway in the wind. Vertical plants that tower up through a dense planting. And plants that feed the birds who bring their precious song to a garden.

Plant that makes you want to run the other way:

Japanese knotweed and other invasive aggressive bullies.

Favorite go-to plant:

Above: A crowd of Viburnum ‘Mary Milton’, Hydrangea aspera, and Rosa ‘Cecile Brunner’ nearly obscures a door in the walled garden.

Shrubs. I love them. I also love including umbels and vertical plants in a planting scheme.

Hardest gardening lesson you’ve learned:

You can’t do it all.

Gardening or design trend that needs to go:

Cutting huge bundles of branches to bring indoors. Unless you’re pruning or cutting to improve the shape of your shrub or tree, you’re likely doing more damage for short-term pleasure. If you are cutting branches, use a good, sharp, clean tool, know how to make smart healthy cuts, and don’t be greedy. Think about the health and shape of the plant you leave behind.

Favorite way to bring the outdoors in.

  Lindsey makes a beautiful arrangement from just three stems of Lily of the valley and one of red columbine.
Above:  Lindsey makes a beautiful arrangement from just three stems of Lily of the valley and one of red columbine.

Thoughtful snips of what’s blooming or leafing out in the garden.

Every garden needs …

…Alpine strawberry plants tucked into a pot or garden. I always include Alpine strawberries in my own containers and often sneak them in for clients. Their leaves, flowers and, of course, fruit never fail to delight. A garden is not complete, in my opinion, without a few.

Favorite hardscaping material:

Above: Lindsey snapped this shot of an old stone wall in CT for future design inspiration.

Reclaimed stone or native stone. I love going to quarries. I love working stone into projects—walls, paths, gravel gardens…

Tool you can’t live without:

Above: Lindsey’s minimalist gardening arsenal.

My tool belt of 26 years, plus Felco pruners and a Hori Hori on a belt—and I’m good to go.

Go-to gardening outfit:

LC King Hickory Striped Carpenter Pants; a white linen men’s button-down shirt; a wide-brimmed hat; Blundstone boots; Jao Brand Outscent Spritz; Atlas gloves; and my trusty tool belt.

Favorite nursery, plant shop, or seed company:

I’m excited by all the local growers popping up these days and love a boutique nursery with interesting well-grown plants that leans into native plants. I do love hunting for trees for a project and discovering new unique sources for special treasures. Never a box store.

On your wishlist:

Traveling to botanize anywhere remote, preferably with experts to help point out and share knowledge. Places that are less disturbed to find the native plants growing in the wild.

Not-to-be-missed public garden/park/botanical garden:

Id like to go to the Garden of Ninfa in Italy and Joshua Tree National Park one day.

The REAL reason you garden:

Above: Lindsey “paints” with plants. Here, a composition featuring Hydrangea aspera ‘Plum Passion’, Astrantia ‘Roma’, and a spent bloom of Nectaroscordum siculum.

I like to create with nature. If I weren’t doing this, I would be making art, but I find it hard to sit still long enough. One day, I’ll spend more time with my paint brush.

Thanks so much, Lindsey! Follow her on Instagram @lindseytaylor.

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