Warp and weft Posted on September 10, 2010

If I needed to turn my back for a while to see the garden clearly in focus again, I also needed inspiration from a fresh creative eye. Bang on cue landed a book I had been looking forward to for a year: a pictorial account of a famous weaver’s garden on Long Island by California’s most perceptive gardener, photographer and critic, Molly Chappellet.

The name of Jack Lenor Larsen is to fabrics what Armani, say, or Yves St Laurent is to couture. He has been growing his garden in East Hampton for forty years, integrating it with his airy house and astonishing collection of (mainly modern) sculpture. All his life he has worked with weavers in different cultures, from Africa to the Far East to Scandinavia and the Americas. He pulls all these threads together with a weaver’s eye, in which wit, it seems to me, plays a large part.

The Long House garden is on a big scale; flowing rather than episodic, full of big vistas and big events. Inevitably most of the trees are natives, from oaks and birches to the juniper (Juniperus virginiana) locally known as ‘cedar’. Part is sand-dunes, another part a monumental hornbeam alley, another an amphitheatre surrounded by strange monumental bronzes. One celebrated walk is through red azaleas along a colonnade of red lacquered wooden posts. Then suddenly there is a Buckminster Fuller dome. You are prepared for surprises, but surprise and shock are not the same and the wit behind each surprise prevents it being shocking.

I can say all this with confidence, never having visited Long House, because my friend Molly’s photographs are so precisely evocative and so comprehensive. They are allowed to cast their spell, mostly without explanation, through the body of the book. The effect is like an exploratory wander in the garden without a guide. Then at the back they are recapitulated with all your questions answered – an excellent formula.

It sent me out into my garden newly critical, ready for fresh beginnings – but newly appreciative, too, of things I had been taking for granted.

Jack Lenor Larsen’s Long House is published by www.chroniclebooks.com, ISBN No: 978-0-8118-7084-9

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