Not so wonderful

Readers occasionally inquire about visiting my garden, and I suppose no harm could come of it, but I fear that many would be disappointed that the garden is not so grand as they imagined. As gardens go, mine is larger than most. The property totals just under an acre and a quarter, and besides the footprint of the house there are only three small panels of lawn (that get smaller every year). The remainder is ornamental garden, and there are plants squashed into every nook and cranny, and herein lies the problem.

The design of a beautiful garden should complement the plants. There must be form and structure, and adequate space given so large specimens can be appreciated. In this garden there is none of that, no order, little structure, and most definitely not enough space allocated to individual plants. An objective observer might surmise that the resident gardener had gone quite mad, cramming as many plants into a space as possible, and not having the good sense to know when to quit. I won’t agree with this, but my wife does.

Stone paths have been constructed to lead through much of the garden, primarily because my wife refuses to walk on mulch, or leaf debris, or any other surface that could be called dirt and tracked into the house. The paths are interrupted by several small slate and flagstone patios, a few with a bench or chairs that are useful for setting pruners and trowels onto, but are rarely used for their intended purpose. I have noticed recently that the stone work on the patios is in need of some repair, with some paving sunken or gaps between stones that have widened as they have crept apart through the years. Perhaps I’ll get around to this next year.

This year I will be planting, next year I might clean up. The grand plan for this year includes adding several Japanese maples, a Parrotia, and more fully developing the garden around the spring-fed wetland that creeps along the back half of the southern border. I use the word “plan” cautiously, not intending to infer that there is actually a design on paper for where all these treasures will be planted.

Despite warnings from my wife (only half-hearted, I believe) not to plant more trees or to remove any more of the rear lawn, I have carved out an area for two of the Japanese maples. I’ll determine a spot for the third maple, and the Parrotia, when they’re sitting on the lawn ready to plant.  A bit of groundwork is necessary for the wetland planting to sculpt some areas to hold more moisture and to mound others to be a bit drier. For this area a few plants have been mail ordered in the winter, the remainder will be picked up at the garden center in a few weeks.

I’m overjoyed to have time to plant so early in the season. With glorious weather two weekends earlier (not too cool or warm), I accomplished a few weeks worth of cleanup in only a day, and if I were not planting this week I don’t know what it is that I would do to keep myself busy.

I can hardly wait for May to see the new Japanese maples in leaf. There are already more than a dozen varieties in the garden, but I’ve been anxious to plant these since I saw them in the field at the nursery in Oregon last summer. Once they’re in the ground I’ll consider what needs to be planted to surround them, since leaving even a small spot open is an invitation for weeds to invade. I’ll try to restrain my impulses to plant too much, too close, but I’m resigned to a garden where one neighbor flops over the other, so who am I fooling?

I’m probably not capable of change, or restraint, so if you should visit the garden, do so without grand expectations.


10 thoughts on “Not so wonderful

  1. I’m in Warrenton VA, fifty miles west of DC in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. I spend a delightful week every year touring and purchasing plants in beautiful Oregon, truly a nurseryman’s paradise.

  2. I think that might be usual for gardeners…I am a garden designer…but i LOVE PLANTS and when we do a redo and end up with orphans I just have to give them a home…I do try to keep the front garden aesthetically pleasing but the back is just a plant sanctuary : )

    • I should be ashamed of the awful mess I’ve created, but like most addicts I’m not. In particular, I believe that it’s important to keep landscape designers away from my garden. To non-gardeners it looks to be a lush paradise, to gardeners it’s likely to be too much of a good thing, but to designers I’m afraid that it might be a catastrophe.

  3. That is Parrotia in the photo on a very sunny day in mid June in Oregon. More or less, this is spring foliage since the week I was in Oregon was their first sunny week in two months.

  4. Fear not, your not alone in as you call it over planting. I prefer
    a garden that has been planted leaving no open spaces. See a lone specimen plant all lonely makes me wonder did this gardener run out of money or die before completing his garden planting.
    Quote “An objective observer might surmise that the resident gardener had gone quite mad, cramming as many plants into a space as possible, and not having the good sense to know when to quit.”

    Remember, one mans overgrown mass planted untidy garden is another mans Mona Lisa.

  5. Thanks, I like that. I didn’t feel bad at all since I’m not objective. My primary critic is my wife, who prowls the garden with her pruners on occasion to chop out any branches that stray over the paths and patios. I appreciate her small contribution to tidying up, even if she does prune indiscriminately.

  6. Hi Dave -love your blog. Your garden IS beautiful because of the lack of everything you mentioned. After all, a garden is like a painting and every artisit paint a different picture. I like unkempt, a little bit of this and that. How boring perfection is! I have stopped mulching with wood mulch and I have been set free!! I mulch with my and my neighbors leaves after they have been mowed over. It’s fantastic and FREE. I do this , of course in the fall so come Spring , I’m not wood mulching like a maniac and spending a small fortune. Blog on, Dave!

    • Thanks. Next time my wife tells me what a mess I’ve created I’ll tell her that it’s art. Mulching with woodchips, or any other organic material that degrades, is the single best thing that a gardener can do to improve their soil. When I make a planting bed I remove or kill the grass without disturbing the soil, then plant and mulch with long lasting pine bark nuggets. I will never add mulch again, though I will top dress many beds with shredded leaves in autumn.

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