Monday, June 06, 2011

Garden as Biography

It might not be polite to say it out loud, but I love to go on garden tours for the ideas I can steal about landscaping and plant varieties and combinations. Plus it's so much better to see them in place, in the same conditions that I have to contend with (freezes, soggy soil and overly shady patches, for instance).

Many gardens are lovely, designed down to the last detail from the aggregate stone used to form the pool surround to the precisely trimmed boxwood around the entry. A few reflect the personality of the gardener, with whimsical ornaments or sweet vignettes. Fewer still, usually long-established and hard-won, are like meeting the gardener herself.

I was fortunate to be able to walk through one such garden, that of Barbara Ashmun (below right), author of seminal books on garden design like "The Garden Design Primer,""Garden Retreats"and "Married to my Garden." On the near-acre plot you can tell that this is a garden that is always a work in progress, with boggy areas, shade and hot sun making it challenging to work in.

It's also casual, with whimsy in the purple watering cans suspended from a canopy at eye level, or a life-sized ceramic couple reclining under variegated dogwood, with many areas set aside for quiet contemplation. Unlike many grander gardens with their emphasis on geometry and a not-subtle display of wealth, this garden is one that offers glimpses and glances for the viewer who is willing to pay attention and notice what's going on in the periphery.

That said, there are definite statements of authority here, too. A tall sturdy tree dominates a slope of lawn leading down to the body of the garden, a perfect place to sit and survey (and probably make mental notes on what is and isn't working). Some unusual species occupy the "I didn't know that could grow in Zone 8!" territory, letting you know that this is a gardener who knows her stuff.

Ashmun herself was there, sitting in a bright pink folding chair under a favorite tree mid-garden, chatting with admirers, answering questions and watching tour-goers walking through, pointing and smiling. I introduced myself and thanked her for opening her private space for the day, but I didn't stay to chat. I'd already met her through her garden.


ddzeller said...

I never really thought about stealing ideas but what a great tip when going on garden tours!

KAB said...

Well, stealing the actual plants themselves is kinda discouraged, so stealing the ideas is at least more socially acceptable.