Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Garden Designer I Ain't

Winter's getting long about now and I'm really ready for it to be over. Browsing plant catalogs and looking at photos from our garden in summer only make me pine for spring even more. It's the time of year when I get crabby just because of this. So let me apologize in advance for the forthcoming rant. You have been warned.

If I read another thing about design in the garden I think I'll scream. Okay, that may be a bit harsh, and I love to see beautifully designed gardens, but I just don't want to hear any more about how to do it. I'm a garden-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal and I doubt I could actually design a garden if my life depended on it. It stresses me.

When I walk into a garden center, rarely do I have a specific plant in mind for a definite space in my gardens. I may have seen a photo of a plant I liked and go looking for it, but I almost never know where I'm going to put it. I just want it. It will fit in somewhere. Does this make me a plant collector? And if so, what's so bad about that anyway?

Sometimes I plant something and later it's pretty obvious it's not in the right spot so it gets moved. No doubt if I did a little more planning, a lot of what's in my gardens would be bigger than it is because it wouldn't have suffered the stress of transplanting. But that's just not my style.

When I've had visitors to my gardens, they all have commented on how beautiful they are and I wonder if they're just being polite. If so, thank you! If not, thank you too! The biggest part of what makes gardening fun for me is simply growing beautiful plants and flowers in the space I've been allotted. Great garden design isn't something I even aspire to do. Is that bad?

I garden for my own enjoyment, no one else's. Sure, I love to have people visit our gardens and I like it when they compliment them. Who doesn't enjoy that? But in the end, it's me who spends the most time in them and if they make me happy, then it's all good.

Garden design be damned.

Author's note: I wrote the above about two weeks ago, when I was in a foul mood. (Could you tell?) I later thought it best that I didn't publish it, until Hanna over at This Garden is Illegal dared me to go ahead.

Reading it now, I feel I need to say that maybe I wrote it because I'm jealous of those that can put things together in gorgeous color combinations and lay their gardens out in structural sensations. I have great admiration and respect for gardeners like that. But I will never be one of them.


WiseAcre said...

I love your approach. A hodgepoge of plants is always better than none. If it pleases your eye that's all that really matters.

For many it's the 'process' of working in the garden that gives the greatest enjoyment. Design be damned has it's own rewards.

Over time even a design handicapped gardener will have a beautiful garden. It may take more time through trial and error to get a 'design' but that's half the fun. With experience 'design' will become second nature.

Anonymous said...

There, now don't you feel better?

I am like that too. I could not plan a flower bed to save my life and I find that plant shopping is much more fun (though more costly) if I can say "Oh look there... and there... and there. Oh to hell with it, I will take a dozen of each."

Earth Girl said...

Kylee, I say Embrace Your Inner Plant Collector. I tried to change my gardening style from collector to designer over the last several years. The result? I started enjoying gardening less and my garden looked worse. I ended up with better designs following my creative impulses with plants I just had to find someplace to put.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain. Given my druthers, I don't know that I would ever even buy a matched pair of plants, much less 'design' anything.

unfortunately (sort of) I've just come into two and a half almost-empty but with just-enough-stuff on them to make it complicated acres. And now I *have* to design something, unless I'm just going to stack the plants in a pile.

It's driving me batty.

Particularly since the persnickety things like roses and rhododendrons that I should really wait and determine a good place for are exactly the things that I want to put in *now* so they can start getting established.

pooey on design. Plant piles are the way to go.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

LOL! Just this morning I ordered a shrub which I have no idea where to put. I just had to have it. Of course it's got chartreuse & green variegated leaves...I try to plant my garden with design principles in mind, but either the plants won't cooperate (1 or 2 out of 3 die) or my impulses take over. The only reason my garden is harmonious colorwise is because I am so color sensitive & tend to surround myself with colors that suit me (colors I can wear). Fortunately, those are colors I like. There's no need to feel like less of a gardener because you don't consciously make design a priority. Your garden instead has an organic design that grows naturally out of your tastes & impulses. Rules be damned! Garden anarchy forever! (Great, now you got me started.)

Frances, said...

Thanks for getting that out of your system. I have moved nearly every plant in the garden several times, that's just part of gardening. While sometimes shopping for a specific need, tall, red foliage, etc. usually I am just browsing, waiting for the plant to speak to me, take me to your garden!

Frances at Faire Garden

Lisa at Greenbow said...

Kylee, just relax, breathe in deep. Now exhale. Aaaahhhh. doesn't that feel better?? :)

I used to worry about design but no longer. Life is just too darned short. I am another one that just plods along planting here, planting there. Happier than I deserve. Just let all that design stuff go...Don't be intimidated by all these designers that blog and show their wonderful gardens. I am sure they like us ploters and planters just as much as anyone else. They just probably think "why did they do that?" tee hee... Also they are just like us in that they are showing the prettiest parts of their gardens at just the right moment.

Anonymous said...

Kylee, I chuckled my way through your rant because, as you commented on my recent post, yours is the opposite viewpoint.

I must know---when you read my post on design this morning, did you scream? ;-)

I think MMD says it best in her comment: "There's no need to feel like less of a gardener because you don't consciously make design a priority." You are an intuitive or maybe a visual gardener rather than a planner or schematic gardener. You're having fun, your garden looks beautiful and pleases you and your friends---what more do you need?

In my own design-oriented defense, I'll just add that strong bones (a good hardscaping design) helps us plant lovers get away with the see-it-must-plant-it style of gardening. Good structure allows the inevitable planting mistakes to be overlooked.

Oh, and I wouldn't worry one bit about moving plants around until you find the right spot. Every gardener I know does that. I've never known anyone to "get it right" (if there is such a thing) the first time. And this is coming from someone who helps others design gardens.

Muum said...

plant collector seems a bit harsh. I am not good at design, either, I am trying to learn by reading about it, and trying a few things, but my ideas are bkp pretty basic.fb oh, shoot, my delete and bcka backspace key are not working. I think it heklps helps to remember that we aren't all great at everything. YOu cs seem to be great at a lot of things, so I co would not worry about garden desing design.....

Anonymous said...

John H

Plan ? That's one of those four letter words that people who can't hold onto the t's use. Plant is a verb.. just do it. The closest I come to those letters is when she who must be obeyed says 'get one of them and two of those for the garden' or when grandaughters who love purple say 'one of those!' with undeniable enthusiasm. Gardens are for dirty hands, lotsa blossoms and extremely judicious use of select four letter words and one three letter word... fun. Is it spring yet? =P

Anonymous said...

Kylee - Thanks for stopping by the old blog, today. I so enjoyed your "rant" and this comes from someone who's designed beds and landscapes for many clients.

Six years after designing a unique front bed, surrounded by pavers, I still have folks stopping by, to extend compliments on design and color. Plants don't always behave as you wish or plan, so one change was made two years ago. Two years later, and I find there's "one last thing" I should have done differently, but it means one more upheaval... so, I delay and growl at my overly-vigorous Purple Smoke Tree (Cotinus) every time I pass by that "designer" bed.

Long and short of it is, a little more relaxed and natural approach brings its own style and rewards... as the rest of my very informal yard bears witness. I must learn to "chill" a little and step away from the drafting table a bit more often.

Great, entertaining rant that really got me thinking..... Deb

Cheryl said...

Hi kindred spirit
I am a wildlife gardener, so there is no neat edges, manicured lawn or tightly clipped hedges in my garden. I to admire all forms of gardening, for we are different people, with our own little plot, putting our own mark on it.
I love my garden and wouldn't want it any other way. It is full of bees, butterflies, birds and all other sorts of creatures. To me it is a paradise.
I will be back.

Dave said...

Everyone has their own style. There's no reason why you shouldn't plant it as you go. Often I'll see a plant in a nursery and think that would look good here, rather than think about a plant then go looking for it. I do like to have a general guideline to base things around. Really I don't see anything wrong either way. Nature will take it's course whether it's planned or not. The plants that work well together will and those that won't won't. As for moving stuff I moved a willow and a maple this last year to put them in better places. Sometimes gardening is trial and error!

Unknown said...

Hey, dear heart! I have days like that. The thing of it is...gardening is individualistic, and we can do whatever we damn well want in our gardens. All I hope is that people will do so with joy, and with an eye to being good stewards of the earth. Other than that, let's bloom where we're planted, and relish how we do what we do! I like playing with plant colours, but I'm also a bit of a collector (ie addict) so I'll never have a 'perfect' garden...but it works for us, the cats, the catERPILLArs, the birds and myriad other creatures, so that's the main thing. You just keep right on doin' what you're doin'.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I could have written this post myself. Thank you very much for saving me the trouble!

I know we're supposed to be concerned about bones and pay attention to our hardscaping and all that. But you know, I can't afford to. And I don't really want to give up an inch of ground to paving or pavement. If other people like my garden, fine. And if they don't, that's fine, too. I garden because I love to play in the dirt and watch things go. My garden is not going to win any design awards. As a matter of fact, neither is my house or my wardrobe.

Annie in Austin said...

I saw your comment at Pam/Digging, Kylee - nothing like different points of view to make even mid-February interesting.

I can't afford many bones either - heck - in Austin to have a good garden all your money will go for soil and arborists before you even get to the structure. Then the plants get bumped even further down the list.

Could you think of the perennials-in-motion as emulating the old English borders which were completely dug up and replanted every couple of years? Just stuff some compost in when you transplant and say you're replenishing the beds like Gertrude or Vita.

Still laughing with you Kylee!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Robin's Nesting Place said...

I can identify, Kylee. It sounds like I garden the way you do, for fun, by the seat of my pants, on my whims, and totally by trial and error. However, I usually do enjoy the design blog posts, because, even though I don't garden by design, I usually learn something, especially with visuals, about what I like and dislike. I usually see a plant I'm not familiar with or color grouping that looks pretty to me.

It can be frustrating though to hear how it should be done, knowing that the budget is limited. I just try to ignore what isn't applicable for my space, energy, time or budget.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

I don't think you could improve much on nature's design.
When I see a garden so obviously constructed by man and in shapes and forms contrary to what would ever happen naturally, I have to ask, "why are you trying to improve upon nature?"

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

Okay, I don't know what I am now. I don't sit down and map out everything on graph paper. But I do mull over stuff and get a vision in my head--a bit. Then I go out and start working. I'm still doing the "infrastructure" of the garden in back. I know kinda what I want, but I also just let things happen as I build it. If I had to direct a work crew to do what I end up doing, I would fail miserably because I DON'T KNOW until I'm actually doing it. In the end, the product is a garden that looks designed but really isn't. Now what is that? The bane of Hubby existence, actually. ;)

Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

Anonymous said...

That wasn't so bad, you didn't use any exclamation points! My husband says that I move my plants around the garden, more than I move the furniture around the house.

Kylee Baumle said...

WiseAcre ~ I can see how the more I garden, the more I have definite ideas about what I want to do. I just don't have them prior to actually doing them. LOL.
And absolutely, you're right - the fun of gardening is the working in the garden. Nursery hopping is pretty darn fun, too!

Hanna ~ Yes! That DID feel good! And hey, want to go with Kim and me when we go nursery hopping? We could use another enabler!

Earth Girl ~ I'm glad to hear that. I'll just keep on doing it the way I am, and as WiseAcre said, it probably will become second nature after awhile. Or not. LOL.

PlantingOaks ~ Plant Piles! Yeah! You can always move things later anyway. :-)

Mr McGregor's Daughter ~ That shrub wouldn't happen to be a caryopteris, would it?
So now I'm a garden anarchist? I kind of like the sound of that!

Frances ~ That's how I shop, too. Sometimes I'm looking for something specific and I always come home with other things, too. So plants call your name, too? I have to buy them just to shut them up!

Lisa ~ I don't feel inadequate really. It's just not something that I try all that hard to do. I love seeing a well-planned garden and I marvel at how others are able to do it. I'm glad they do it so I'll have pretty pictures to look at and pretty gardens to visit. :-)

Pam ~ Oh no, I didn't scream. I was in a GOOD mood when I read your blog. LOL!
I think those bones are what I worry more about when it comes to design. Mainly because we've got a pretty large property and I don't want my gardens to look like cultivated bits just plopped here and there. To make them look more "natural" takes a lot of "structure" that was missing when we started, but we're getting there. It's a work in progress and they're very young gardens, with the biggest part of them three years old or less.
About the moving plants thing - I enjoy moving things around!

Muum ~ Obviously, I read about design, too, or I wouldn't have gone on this rant! The morning I first wrote this, it seemed like every single blog or magazine article I'd read was about design. I was just kind of sick of it! I have learned some things, though, so it's not all bad. LOL.

John H ~ Got my 't's right here! I love your viewpoint! And spring is just around the corner, right?

Deb ~ It's good to know that designers have their own kind of angst. LOL. I think I'll always have a laid back style of gardening. I have parts of my garden that I think could look better, but on the other hand, they don't exactly look bad either. At least the greens all go together. :-)

Cheryl ~ You're exactly right. We decorate our yards like we decorate our homes, don't we? The birds, bees, butterflies, and the kitties love the garden and so do I, just as it is in your garden. Can't be that bad then, can't it? ;-)

Dave ~ For me, gardening is mostly trial and error at this point! I'll ask advice from my mom sometimes, because she just has a natural eye for design. She's so artsy, it's amazing.

Jodi ~ Collector/Addict - hard to distinguish between the two when it comes to plants, isn't it? I embrace my addiction. LOL.

mss@Zanthan Gardens ~ You're welcome! I had a feeling there were others out there that would know just how I felt. And yeah, you're right! Bones aren't cheap! But regardless, we're all having fun in the gardens, so I guess it doesn't matter. Those that want great design, do that. Those that don't, don't. And those that want it but don't have it needn't worry about it if they're having fun, right? Glad we got that settled!

Annie ~ I hear you about the soil thing. We have that awful mucky heavy clay here. I never imagined that I would have to spend so much money just to have good soil to work with, and it could still be better.
And hey, thanks for the Gertrude and Vita excuse. I feel good that I know who you're talking about - two years ago, I wouldn't have!

Robin ~ I'm right there with you, Robin, when I look at a well-designed garden. Mainly I see plants that I like the foliage or color of and then try to find it. However, it's rarely with a thought as to where it's going to go!
And it's too bad that lack of money has to be the deterrent so many times. If we had more of that, can you imagine how much fun we could have spending it on our gardens?

Nina ~ Well, most gardens are contrived to some point, and that's not a bad thing, but I understand what you're saying. I think we need to think first about what "naturally" goes together if we want our gardens to "work." Some of us just have a better eye for that than others.

Cindy ~ That's the part I have trouble with - visualizing. I usually just have to do it first then see how it looks. One plant can be in three different places in the course of an hour when I'm planting stuff. If I get stumped as to where to put something, I'll just set it aside, maybe even for a day or two, until I can figure something out.

vonlafin ~ LOL! I rarely move the furniture around in our house, so I definitely move the plants more. As I said before, I enjoy moving them! I'm not so sure they like it all that much though.

Entangled said...

Kylee, I'm so happy you posted this because I feel much the same way. I'm too much of a collector and experimenter to be happy with a regimented design, and I'm too frugal to spend a lot of money on hardscaping or to buy an entire garden's worth of plants at one time.

I could go on and on, but have you ever read Elizabeth and her German Garden? Elizabeth von Arnim loved her garden, but others didn't see it the way she did. A passage from the introduction stays in my mind; a visitor says about her garden "I couldn't find it. The house appeared to be surrounded by paddock and shrubberies. ... there was nothing of a show..."

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I was late to your post - look at all those great comments! So many kindred spirits and here's another. I have to think and design and plan for work but at home ... I'm all about plunking. It's the happy accidents that are the most satisfying. (You can tell yourself you have an innate gift.) No need to apologize - "Garden design be damned."!

Kylee Baumle said...

Entangled ~ Yep, we understand each other for sure! And the book sounds interesting. I'm always looking for a great gardening read, especially in winter. I've not read that one.

Kris ~ I can't believe the great response I've gotten from this post! I have really enjoyed hearing everyone's opinion and I've been pleasantly surprised. I thought maybe people would read it and not comment.
Plunker! I like that! Did you know plunking is a term used in harp playing? I liked plunking when I used to play the harp, too. :-)

Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen said...

Design is overrated! There is nothing wrong with the way you garden. For me the hallmark of a succesful garden is that the owner likes it. Some gardens are designed, some are made without a plan. Both methods are fine, whatever makes a gardener happy! :-)

The way you put your plants in is fine, most gardeners work that way and many a scientist too. It's called empiricism aka trial and error. :-)

Fun post Kylee, you should rant more!

Colleen Vanderlinden said...

Great rant, Kylee! I'm a non-planner, too. My garden won't be winning any awards, and the garden club won't be coming to tour it, but it makes me happy and the birds, bees and butterflies love it. That's all that matters. I've honestly moved every non-tree in my garden at least once, and some have been moved every year. And I never plan what I'm going to buy at the garden center---who knows what fabulous plants they'll have that day???

Life (and the gardening season) is too short. Enjoy it, and planning be damned :-)

Jennifer said...

Thank you for this rant, I loved it. Sometimes I feel vaguely guilty and/or slightly inadequate when I read posts and articles about garden design. Not that I don't enjoy them, but it's just not me no matter how hard I try. It's nice to know I am still a legitimate gardener LOL.

My basic design plan when I am planting out my seedlings or purchased plants is to make sure a tall plant is not the blocking the view of a smaller plant. That's it. Everything else is a grand experiment.

Anonymous said...

I am a by the seat of my pants gardener. One of my fellow gardeners who is into design flatly stated to me that she didn't like my style of gardening. Catching me amazed at the bluntness, with a little thought, I replied. "I don't always like it either." There is always next year. So be it.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

I get paid to design other peoples' spaces, but you would never be able to tell by looking at the "plant collection" in my yard.

Kylee Baumle said...

Yolanda Elizabet ~ Yes, we all have different tastes, just like inside our homes. It's like Wiseacre says - it's the "process" that gives the greatest enjoyment. And then that process is neverending and thus, so is gardening.
I should rant more? Oh boy, are you sure?? LOL.

Colleen ~ That's exactly how I feel! It's so fun to go to the garden centers with that open mind that lets you get excited about the possibility of finding the unexpected for your gardens!

Jennifer ~ It sounds like you garden much the same way I do. I think I had just read too many design articles and blogs in a row. By the time I came to the last one, I just didn't want to hear it anymore! Thus, the rant. LOL.
As I said, design has its place and thank goodness for it! It would be so very boring if everyone gardened the same or if we didn't have those fabulously designed gardens to visit!

Mom ~ I really can't imagine that someone wouldn't like your gardens, even if they don't garden that way themselves. They're so pretty!

Aunt Debbi/Kurt's Mom ~ That doesn't really surprise me! I think we are all much that way when it comes to our work life and our home life. You get paid to do it and you have to do it one way for work, but at home, you only have to please YOU. No pressure!

Victoria Williams said...

Love your blog! Couldn't agree with you more about garden design. What really irks me is those "what's in and what's out this year" lists. ARRRGGGHHHH!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

Kylee - sorry its taken me so long to get back to you (I was in Florida). The shrub I ordered is a Cornus alternifolia called 'Golden Shadows' or something like that. (I can't find the flier.)

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