I think we all like to feel we’ve created very personal gardens that express parts of ourselves. Even if they don’t start out that way, few people continue with the effort of tending a garden without personalizing it. Do you ever wonder what it’s saying to other people? And is it telling an intriguing story or just blurting it out there? That’s what I mulled on during this week’s podcast. As always, there’s a link below, to listen to the podcast now, or you can access the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. And if you would just as soon read it yourself, scroll down below the photo and dig in.
As mild as the weather has been this fall, I’m pretty sure most of us haven’t been focusing on gardening this month. Like many of you, I’ve been pulling out the Christmas decorations, which always sends you down memory lane, right. It’s dumbfounding how much history is in things we use only once a year.
But all year long, we display all kinds of photos and awards and trinkets in our homes to let people know who we are, where we’ve been and what we’ve accomplished. Our homes really do become expressions of ourselves. Do our gardens? I don’t know.
I’m not suggesting we fill our gardens with memorabilia, but is your personality in your garden or is it just a study in good taste? Or maybe questionable taste?
Many, many of us created our gardens in fits and starts. But once you got passed the initial stages and a real garden started taking form, you began to have definite ideas about how you wanted it to look and feel and what you wanted to convey. That’s not just how your garden speaks to you, it’s what it is saying to everyone who visits it.
Like the inside of your home, your garden can give your friends a glimpse into your life and loves. A couple of foundation shrubs and a pot of red geraniums doesn’t tell us much, but when someone makes the effort to create a garden, it truly is a act of expression, maybe even more so than decorating a home. Gardens evolve and our story develops along with them.
Now lots of people say they aren’t any good at telling stories, but stories are as simple as having a beginning, a middle and an end.
Where does your garden begin? Is it a space people can come into or is it some undefined space around your house? Do people immediately know where to go? Is your entrance inviting? You don’t need a sign for this. It can shout HELLO in bright colors or entice with whimsical ornaments. Maybe it’s guarded, with a little mysterious intrigue? Whatever it is, if you are going to begin your story by announcing the start of your garden, let it hint at what we can expect to see in it.
Now that you’ve gotten people’s attention, once inside, does your garden take them on a journey? Are there choices to be made about which way to go and is there some suspense or a sense of expectancy about where they will wind up? Or do you put it all out there on view?
Straight lines and open spaces don’t offer a chance for discovery. If you want to tell a story, you’ll want your visitors to slow down and pay attention. Curved paths, hidden corners, and wide landings where people will naturally want to pause and take in the view, will cause them to notice more nuance along the way.
Don’t have that much space? You can evoke the sense of hidden gems by layering plants or putting little surprises in your beds, like an unexpected ornament peaking out at you, an unusual plant (like a Black Lace™ Sambucus or a yellow peony), or a change in levels, whether by mounding soil or maybe putting a potted plant on a stand right smack in your border. Showcase the things that you love the most, the way you would in a curio cabinet.
These are focal points, a design concept used to tell people where to look; to direct your eye to a certain spot. They also add an element of surprise. And more than that, if you put a piece of sculpture or a large, beautiful, unusual plant in the middle of a border you’re not just telling people to slow down and pay attention, you’re telling them “This is what I value”. (Remember that the next time you’re tempted to buy an ornament of questionable taste. ;))
Which brings us back to “what is your garden’s story?”. Does it have a theme? Does it reflect the same taste you designed with indoors or is it your place to escape? Are you a plant collector in search of the unusual? Have you created a tropical paradise in upstate NY or is it your own private theme park? Maybe you’ve created a very personal pass along garden or, like Rockefeller’s Kykuit, a place to showcase your taste in art?
Having and knowing your point of view can make it so much easier to know where and what to plant. Don’t be afraid to run with it. Repetition is a key component of garden design because it makes a garden feel cohesive. It also emphasizes your garden’s story. Whether it’s dashes of flamboyant red here and there, a particular plant that gets used in multiple spots, or a plethora of frog statues, whatever you repeat is seen as clues sprinkled about your garden that give a glimpse into your story.
And finally, have a destination and make it worth the trip. It doesn’t have to be grand. You could lead us out to a great view, the perfect meditation spot, a folly, a wildflower meadow, your vegetable garden, a viewing bench – whatever makes you want to stop and soak it all in. I don’t think it should be a dead end, just a pause that allows the visitor to put the pieces of your garden together. Although you could even have the garden wind back to your patio and some inviting seating – which also says something about you; your garden is an intrigue, but it’s still welcoming.
What story does your garden tell? What does it say about you? I’d love to hear. I’ll be posting this over on FB, if you’d care to share your story.
Either way, I hope you never hesitate to make your garden as personal as your home.
Don’t forget to pick up your free copy of