Monday, September 26, 2011

Paradise Found at Metro Hort Garden Lecture

Social networking has its green scene. 
Laughter and chatter and welcome back hugs, along with a few air kisses, greeted Metro Hort members at the wine and cheese party that was abuzz on the garden rooftop of the Arsenal, overlooking New York’s majestic Central Park.  Skyscrapers perched liked distant sentinels frame the world-class oasis. 
It was a sublime soiree. 

In conversation bubbles that formed, dissolved, and connected, the group’s professional horticulturists eagerly shared their summer work project stories: garden travel, garden design, park renovations and the tribulations and triumphs of horticulture work during what has been noted as the second hottest summer recorded.  There were a lot of stories to tell.  

This year’s growing season had its share of climate change mood swings, that’s for sure – from hot to rain to storms of the century. 
But horticulturists and gardeners prevail!

Metro Hort’s premiere lecture greeted the new series’ season with Emil Kreye & Son’s talk and picture show about their work constructing rock and water landscapes. (
Luke Kreye, Emil Kreye & Son

I think it’s safe to say that Luke’s presentation about the challenges and problems of building their gardens left the members a bit breathless. (One rock garden project is 400 feet long and 23 feet high.) The scope and scale of their work is beyond what most members’ typical projects consist of. 

These are rock gardens for the dinosaurs.  
No dainty screes or diminutive blossoms here. 
These landscapes are colossal. They require heavy, massive technology to move the boulders from the Pennsylvania quarry to their clients’ yards.   
Er, estates. Or compounds. 
See, the Kreye’s client list is happily upscale.  Keeping up with the Larsen’s – of Long House Reserve – and Frank Cabot’s Stonecrop -- and the family who started Bed, Bath & Beyond takes them, well, beyond more than curb appeal. 
When the question of how much a garden design like this might run, the answer was “a lot.” When pressed, Luke said a suite of steps might run $50,000. 
And believe me, these landscape designs were comprised of more than a few stairways to heaven.

The awed members expressed true admiration and respect for the work.
There is palpable pride that four generations of Kreyes know their craft and design with nature. The family tree must surely possess a family garden god or goddess that imbues them with garden power to design ravines, cascading waterfalls to rival national parks, and moats fit for a king – or hedge fund manager.

The feature water gardens or “water installations” circulate water all year long. Water flowing around frozen ice sculpture in their design work is a construct of engineering that creates a living work of art. Some of the waterfalls grades were 150 feet high and the landscapes embrace more than 10,000 pounds of rock.
They’ve created bird sanctuaries.  The water builds microbial colonies, the shrubs are planted to contain waste, rocks and other plants especially ferns, too.  Koi are used in all the ponds they create.

The Kreyes change the topography. The create ecosystems. Designed filters and EPDM rubber linings – so no leaching Luke claims -- support the infrastructure and operation. Overflow water is directed back into the drainage system.  They heavily compact the earth. They use native plants and the result is a landscape tableau that looks likes it’s always been there. 
Alternatively, some gardens have no plants.  It’s rock and water.  And the landscape is a “staged installation.”

Luke describes the design process as visiting the landscape and getting a feel for the site. I couldn’t help think of the mise en place, or spirit of the place, speaking to the family.
They then go to the Pennsylvania quarry and select the stone. 

Then they reassess on site before moving the rocks to create that ideal sense of realism.  “We don’t want to be moving around rocks that can weigh more than 200 pounds, “ Luke pointed out…
“And I personally know every rock in every design,” he states with confidence and pride. So while the designs are outsized, the personal, customized oversight permeates every project. 

Luke and his father design the landscapes, His father – who was in attendance at the talk – details the work.  Each project takes about a year to build, according to Luke.  Technology has allowed the family to create more landscape fantasies.  

A completed installation in the Kreye portfolio was just manic over the top – a real conversation starter. 
A Old Westbury, Long Island family visited the Atlantis island resort and came home determined to build a water slide like the one there. (and here all I got was a t-shirt!)

Kreye’s landscaped or manipulated the yard to make way for not only a water slide but a pool and other impossible water works that would make Poseidon blush. They used cherry laurels to hide a lot of the slide structure so one has the sense of sliding through a forest glen.

Luke dutifully displayed the work at his own home in Oyster Bay, Long Island.  He even invited Metro Hort members to visit for a tour.  “We give three to five garden tours a year,” he noted.   It is sensational to say the least.  “We use as many plants as we can,” he said while showing Eden-rock like images of waterfalls and moats. 
Paradise found…     

If you are a horticultural professional interested in becoming a Metro Hort member, contact the association at:

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