Did you start your garden with a plan or did you just dive in? Most of us aren’t able to stick with a planting plan. We’re not just impulse buyers, we’re impulse gardeners. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. So I was intrigued by a writer stating that gardening really boils down to garden design. That’s the topic I tackle on today’s podcast.
By the way, this will be the last podcast for awhile. I will be focusing my attention on writing and speaking this spring, but I expect the podcast to return. In the meantime, you can listen to episode 50 right here or download it at the Gardening the Hudson Valley podcast on iTunes or Sticher. Or you can scoll down below the photo and read for yourself. Enjoy.
I was reading a piece by garden designer Anne Wareham about how ” …the process of gardening is garden design, critically shaping our gardens.” Being design challenged, I’ve often wondered whether the imperfect and ever struggling borders I tend can really be considered a garden. I stopped thinking of each border as its own garden a few years ago when I read somewhere that a garden is something you walk into, experience and become a part of, not something you view. I like this description because it gives me the illusion I am working in a vast and wondrous playground. But there really is no plan. At least not anymore.
I wish I were one of those people who’ve known what they like since they were a child. My sister-in-law has always loved purple. I loved purple on Tuesday and by Friday night I was really into forest green. This fickleness has spilled over into my garden (and my wardrobe) neither of which is the better for it. Following my bliss has exposed the chaos in my decisions.
Which brings me back to Anne’s article, where she says that it’s the small, continuous decisions we make in our gardens – what to thin, what to add, when to yank – that accumulate over time and develop into our garden style. I assume style is used loosely.
I’ve always felt the key to most everything, from good conversation to garden design, is editing. Editing is one of the hardest things to do. A writer thinks every word is necessary. As a gardener, I am enamored of every plant, in one way or another. It’s very hard to rip a plant out, even when it is obviously unhappy in its circumstances or too excessively happy and taking over. I know I’m not alone here. I once gardened with a woman who couldn’t bear to weed out maple saplings, of which there were dozens. She would pot each one up and try to find them a good home.
I think this is what separates garden designers from garden putterers, like me. I don’t really have the desire to edit as ruthlessly as needed. It’s not ignorance of design rules or an inability to appreciate repetition and flow. I think I miss the big picture because I am intrigued by the details.
I often stumble onto a sprouting plant in my garden that looks totally unfamiliar. Instead of pulling it out while it’s small, I always seem to err on the side of “Well, let’s see what it turns out to be.” It generally turns out to be a thistle, or goldenrod, or some other self-sowing nuisance that the wind blew in.
For years, I had a beauty bush, Kolkwitzia amabilis ‘Dreamcatcher’ in front of my vegetable garden fence. The small border there is about 10 ft. x 6 ft. The beauty bush has a spread of 7 – 9 ft., not to mention it reaches a height of 6 – 10 ft. Did I mention it was right in front of my vegetable garden? Talk about blocking the light. While it is a truly stunning shrub, with leaves that start off bronze before erupting into screaming chartreuse offset by elegant pink flowers, it had not place in my border. Still, it took me a decade to dig it out and give it away to a good and much larger home.
I stopped seeing how out of place my beauty bush was and only noticed its flair. I couldn’t rip out seedlings that might have been weeds, but might have been something I had planted and forgotten about. I don’t think I’m alone. Sometimes having a design from the start isn’t crucial. Honestly, what better way to learn about plants than to make a few mistakes. But I think I’m finally learning what Anne was talking about. I have been without my beauty bush for about 3 years now and I wonder why I didn’t give it away sooner. It really is the ongoing and yearly changes we take that turn our gardens into personal statements. These things take time. They take as long as they take. Which is why one of the most often asked questions on garden tours is “How long have you been gardening here?” Seems we can all sense when someone has poured years into their garden. We can tell the difference between a garden that has been laid out like a room and one that has evolved with the gardener.
I hope your garden design finds its way out of your dreams and into your yard. Remember, I’ll be at the Capital District Flower Show on Saturday, March 19th, at 3 o’clock and I’d love to chat with you there.