Accents !

– Posted in: Garden Musings, Garden Photography

Ratway_exclamations)GGWFor a garden photographer there is nothing quite like a landscape architect who knows how to use plants.  Gary Ratway not only knows plants as well as any horticulturist I have met, he designs landscapes to show them off.

His own garden in Mendocino, California is a showcase for garden design as landscape architecture, a landscape that has been designed to accommodate his many garden rooms where he  plays with plants.  Many plant lovers know his nursery, Digging Dog, which Gary began with his wife Deborah Wigham because he could not find sources for the exquisite plants he uses. Hornbeam columns Digging Dog NurseryHis newest experiments are hornbeam columns.  They are staggered around the gardens to give accents and focal points as well as rhythm and repetition to the design.  Over the past few years Gary has mastered the growing and pruning of these trees so that they can be placed  for vertical accents singly or in stately rows.

Gary Ratway’s garden, mixed border in autumn with hornbeam columns

All throughout the garden Gary has used trees as hedges, which run as long as 200 feet and 10 feet high.  Visitors to the nursery will know the European beech (Fagus sylvatica) hedges running the length of the growing grounds and European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) hedge you pass through.  These hedges, along with Field maples (Acer campestre) and yews define the garden rooms of the private gardens.


Entrance to Digging Dog Nursery, display shelves backed by Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus hedge

So if you can make a solid hedge of these clipped trees, why not individual specimens ?

 hornbeam column

Architecturally I really like the trees lined up in rows.  Gary also uses rammed earth columns thoughout the garden (see previous post on these as focal points) and the hornbeams make wonderful counterpoints in a garden that dominated by tall redwood trees.

 rows of carpinus tree columns

There are dozens of these specimens in the garden and Gary is beginning to select certain ones for characteristics such as how long they hold their leaves and for fall color.  Some turn a dull brown, many are shades of butter yellow, and even shades of orange.

Carpinus betulus leaves Hornbeam).

Fall color in hornbeam leaves Carpinus betulus; Gary Ratway garden

Gary also uses lots of balls of boxwoods in the gardens he designs and has just finished using a semi-trailer load in several of his projects.  Many landscape architects use boxwoods as a go-to evergreen shrubs and Gary avoided them for many years because they are so ubiquitous.  But they are quite durable, and when kept pruned make an architectural statement all to themselves.

globes of boxwood shrubs and columns of hornbeam trees

Globes of boxwood shrubs and columns of hornbeam trees

When paired as they are in Gary’s entrance garden I see them as exclamation points.

I only had to move my camera a wee bit to get these two plants to line up as a real exclamation point.  Then a little magic with Photoshop to extract them …

plants as exclamation point

and make them line up.  The camera always lies.




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Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt

Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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