Garden Designers Roundtable: Memory and Plants

| November 26, 2012 | 10 Comments

There is always comment in the garden media

about what we ‘should’ grow in our gardens.

(As if should had anything to do with it!)

Over the last year or so there has been a degree of rigour both sides of the pond

about cherishing ‘the challenging’ in our gardens.

How are we then about hanging onto long dead Auntie Enid’s prize but hideous rose?

Do we cosset the too-tender-for-our-zone and the too-fussy-for-their-own-good?

And plants which look so tired that the crowd in the Roman Coloseum would regard putting their thumbs down as an act of kindness, where are we on those?
Oh dear!!
Lesley will tell you that for all my sometimes tough exterior I am indeed a sentimental old fool!

Early in the year I spotted a seedling in the mulch of a border which looked different and yet somehow familiar. During the Spring and early Summer I weeded carefully round it, watched and waited. I thought I knew what it was and then became absolutely certain.

I was quite stupidly rather elated and a little bit, yes, let’s admit it, sentimental.

I had lost Euphorbia mellifera (to the right in this old snap) in the top corner of the garden one exceedingly tough winter. Despite it being in my best spot. Now, Euphorbia mellifera has the characteristic Euphobia whirl-like arrangement of foliage, yet it is apple green in this species – that I suppose you could get from this and that – but also the honey colour flowers. OK it is not as tough as some. But it had lived there for say 10 years. And I associated it with different times in my life.

And here it was coming up in some compost in the bottom bit of the garden. It would fare even less well here than where its journey had started, given the border’s aspect. And in fact having a ‘dose of the builders’ going on in that area made that quite certain. A place of safety was required and so it was tenderly moved back to its warm wall.

There was, to tell the truth, a little bit of a sense of the prodigal returning to the fold and much joy over it. Call me an old fool if you will. And it will have some winter protection this year at least. It had none in the past.

Plants can carry the great potency of memory. They can be places, people, gifts, times. Plants can contain our own personal story. And no amount of ‘no nonsense’, ‘right plant right place’ practicality is going to tangle with all that maelstrom of mental ‘stuff’.

But in any case, isn’t nurturing a key element of gardening?  We do fuss and cherish , yes. And many of us enjoy doing just that. I will admit that I do less of that than in the past, but once a parent always a parent, right?  There is also  the challenging issue of climatic zones which I have always enjoyed, the sentiment of something from somewhere geographically very different. This entails some detailed grasp of the climatology of your garden. It’s microclimates if you like. It is part of the plantsman’s skill and the grower’s skill.

Now I fully accept that others just want to have their gardening fuss free. They need to know that a star plant will reappear after a hard winter. I respect that and now as a garden designer I mostly need that for my clients. For me, I want to cherish and fuss some things and others ( in fact most others) I want to hold their own. I want it all, therefore. I want my memories, but I want my no-nonsense performers too.

Who am I to dictate? But I think we can fuss and struggle as long as we know that we are doing it – ie it is a choice.

There are, as the saying goes, many roads to Rome…………


Now will our illustrious colleagues be sickly with sentiment or tough as old boots?

Why not click on the links below and find out?

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

Thomas Rainer : Grounded Design : Washington, D.C.

Rochelle Greayer : Studio ‘g’ : Boston, MA

Category: General, General Gardening Stuff, The Planty Stuff

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Comments (10)

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  1. Sentiment is a blessing and a curse, right? I enjoyed hearing of your struggles with sentiment–it reminded me of so many of my own.

    I heard someone recently say that gardeners need to think of themselves like farmers. A bit nurturing, yet a bit heartless, too. I liked the analogy.

  2. Robert says:

    I think these things could be a curse if you struggled with them a lot!
    But covering in a few bits and pieces for the winter scarecely seems that.
    I can’t think of more than five things that I even do that for.
    And I guess I think that does neatly balance the toughness that one shows the rest of the time with normal gardening activities.
    I never thought of myself as a farmer.
    I guess I must be.
    Just a question of plant type and scale!
    Thanks so much for your comment – interesting as always.

  3. As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed your take on this month’s topic. Thoughtful, and spirited. Thanks, Deborah

  4. I think you’ve hit on the delicate balancing act both gardeners and garden designers face. Few of us want a garden so reliable that it becomes ordinary (my own has become a bit too reliant on Rozanne geraniums and Evergold carex), but on the other hand, and garden that requires so much cosseting it never really leaves the toddler state isn’t ideal either. So continuing to turn a Roman-style thumbs down to some, while nurturing your prize euphorbia seems like an excellent compromise to me.

  5. Robert says:

    Hi Susan!
    Yes it is a balance isn’t it.
    One doesn’t want to have everything very formulaic.
    And also it is wonderful to go to a garden and see the odd treasure that you know they have had the skill to grow.
    One could think of it as being merely akin to doing some bedding in pots!
    Yes Rozanne is a real doer isn’t she?
    I chopped loads of her down today because while there was still flower the rest was such a mess.
    That means she has flowered for 7 months.
    I reckon that is service.
    Thanks for your comments.
    Always good to get reassuring judgement from your peers!

  6. Robert says:

    Hi Deborah,
    Hope you are well?
    Thanks for your comments and indeed for your praise!
    My! thoughtful and spirited?
    I would not be at all displeased for that to go on my gravestone!
    Looking forward to reading all the rest of the pieces, but I am in a bit of a binding log jam of work at the moment. Hence up at it in middle of night!

  7. Ah, Robert, always a joy to read your posts! Glad you were able to make the time to nurture your old Euphorbia friend back to health…

  8. Robert says:

    And always a pleasure to hear from you!
    yes I feel a little glow every time I look at it!
    Thanks so much for your comment.

  9. Pam/Digging says:

    I want it all too! What are the odds? Not so good, I expect, but it doesn’t keep me from trying. Isn’t it fun to get a gardener for a client every once in a while, one who likes a little adventure and to do a little nurturing in the garden and not just have the tried-and-true plants?

  10. Robert says:

    Hi Pam!
    U no wot? Real gardeners are tryers and that is wot separates the sheep from the goats!
    Yes re clients. Recently we got a client who really knows and loves plants.
    And for the planting plan I found myself choosing the genus and saying I will leave you to add your favourite variety.
    And that was really nice!
    Thanks so much for your comment, Pam