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Meet James Golden, Author of ‘The View from Federal Twist: A New Way of Thinking About Gardens, Nature and Ourselves’

"The View from Federal Twist: A New Way of Thinking About Gardens, Nature and Ourselves" with James Golden
Meet James Golden, gardener and author of ‘The View from Federal Twist: A New Way of Thinking About Gardens, Nature and Ourselves’. James gardens in New Jersey, Zone 6b and shares photos and stories on his blog. His garden has been featured in numerous publications including The New York Times, Gardens Illustrated, the Financial Times, Horticulture, Elle Décor, and Better Homes and Gardens.

James GoldenWhat struggles did I face when starting my garden 15 years ago?

My heavy, wet, saturated clay soil severely limited the range of plants I could grow, but by making the plants part of the solution—for example, using large, competitive, ecologically appropriate plants to gain dominance over weeds, I created a highly successful naturalistic garden without “improvement” or disturbance of the existing land surface.

What is my gardening approach?

Naturalistic gardens require close observation and depth of understanding of ecological processes, but they are far less labor-intensive than more formal gardens. My management approach is to observe and assess year by year, to respond to needs as they arise, and adapt to changes as needed. The one major management task in my garden is cutting most of the garden to the ground in late winter.

James Golden

Ariel view of small reflecting terrace pool outside house. Photo credit James Golden.


Sunrise from the terrace of the house. . Photo credit James Golden.

How does my garden inspire others?

I hope others will be inspired to learn new approaches to garden making under difficult ecological conditions, learn to let nature lead the way, and experiment with different plants and management approaches. For example, I’ve recently discovered that various Amsonias thrive in my challenging soil conditions and make beautiful, resilient ground covers, and I’m experimenting with a variety of Carex to suppress weeds and control growth of surrounding plants. I’m also experimenting with hügelkultur to create areas of lighter, loamy soil needed to grow spring ephemerals and shade-loving plants in woodland areas.

A wall of windows looks out onto the terrace and over the garden. Photo credit James Golden.


Foggy scene in autumn. Photo credit James Golden.

What makes my garden different?

It was made in a derelict woodland on heavy, wet clay, with no significant effort to improve or change the soil conditions. It is intended to evolve and change.

What advice do I have for new gardeners?

Read a lot, visit many gardens, take risks, and learn from your mistakes.

The lower reflecting pool. Photo credit James Golden.

Thanks for sharing, James!

You can learn more about James on his blog and Instagram @imfederaltwist


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