Real EstateHome, Garden & Design

The Self-Taught Gardener: Bold choices

More Info
By Thursday, Jul 13 Home & Garden  1 Comment More In Real Estate
Plants do best in the climate in which they are most at home, but some are versatile. Peruvian lilies are great container plants for Northerners, but do well in the ground in warmer climates. Their strappy foliage may not be as attractive as its flowers, but its leaves hold up well in the garden.

From Charleston to Tennessee to Kentucky to Indianapolis, I have recently seen an array of gardens, public and private, that demonstrated to me two divergent approaches to gardening. As I found myself admiring qualities of each, it became clear to me that we gardeners need to make up our own minds about how we garden, and our decisions will depend very much on where and how we live.

Crinum, some native and some that originated in Africa and Asia, have been grown in the south for centuries.

Crinum, some native and some that originated in Africa and Asia, have been grown in the south for centuries.

While visiting my friend Jim Martin in Charleston, I loved seeing the gardens he developed, both at his home and in his work with the Charleston Parks Conservancy. Filled with hibisicus and crinum, bald cypress and Peruvian lilies, Jim’s gardens (particularly the one I enjoyed while floating in his pool), represent the best of tropical (or almost tropical) gardening. Effusive and full, his gardens are exotic but primarily comprised of plants (other than container plantings) that are hardy in South Carolina. Non-natives were selected to be a part of the mix, but only if they performed well and not too aggressively in the company of native plants. The result was lush and inviting, without feeling overgrown and out of control. In his work in some of the parks in the city, he has used a combination of natives and time-honored plants that almost seem native because they have been grown in the south for centuries, such as old varieties of noisette roses and crinums. His plant palette succeeded in creating gardens that honored the places they inhabit.

This native hibiscus is a member of the mallow family and is at home in the parks of Charleston, South Carolina.

This native hibiscus is a member of the mallow family and is at home in the parks of Charleston, South Carolina.

In Tennessee, the Knoxville Botanical Garden, overlooking the mountains of the region, also felt like it honored its place. Here, plants such as oakleaf hydrangeas and native trees, as well as a few Blue Altas cedars and some annuals, create an inviting effect that seems to make sense in the landscape. The setting, taking great advantage of its position among charming old nursery buildings and views down the hillside to the mountains beyond, is definitely worth a visit.

Knoxville Botanical Garden is well worth a visit, for its gardens and its sense of place. The old nursery grounds that it inhabits give the garden and intriguing sense of mystery and history.

Knoxville Botanical Garden is well worth a visit, for its gardens and its sense of place. The old nursery grounds that it inhabits give the garden and intriguing sense of mystery and history.

As I headed across to Kentucky on my way to Louisville, I was so taken both by the endless rolling hills and valleys and mountain passes –all paragons of the wild, unruly beauty of nature — and by the manicured horse farms – an example of our taming effect on the landscape. The latter may be singular in their approach to land care, but I found their easy topography soothing after a long day’s drive and three thunderstorms in the mountainous passes that came before them. From there to the plains of Indiana, where the landscape took on a more traditional agrarian appearance as fields of grain came into view. But a visit to the Indianapolis Museum of Art and its gardens showed me a bit of both the worlds I had just seen.

The gardens at the Indianapolis Museum of Art range from tropical plantings and containers to more subdued green spaces. While I prefer the latter, both are done to good effect.

The gardens at the Indianapolis Museum of Art range from tropical plantings and containers to more subdued green spaces. While I prefer the latter, both are done to good effect.

In the past few years, the museum’s landscape has been undergoing some redevelopment and currently juxtaposes the old and the new, the traditional and the exotic and modern, in both its gardens and its buildings. As I walked about, noting the containers and borders of tropical plants, I struggled with this approach, so common in contemporary horticulture, of using tropical plants that seem dramatic but, for me, do not add to a sense of place, particularly when that place is Indiana. However, I understand their use in a newly reworked garden. They develop quickly and, in the case of this garden, provide bold hits of color that draw one to the end of long vistas where wonderful statuary is on display. Yet, I realized that, while I loved the tropical environment at Jim’s poolside garden, I did not love the use of tropical plants in these gardens in Indianapolis. Here, I much preferred the parts of the garden that were more in keeping with the temperate climate in this part of the country. Beds of grasses and borders of hydrangeas and amsonia took me in more deeply, and I look forward to watching these gardens evolve and mature.

To my eye, every plant has a proper home. And some, like me floating around in Jim’s pool, can enjoy their moment in the sun, but then are best heading off to the place where they are more at home.

______

A gardener grows through observation, experimentation, and learning from the failures, triumphs, and hard work of oneself and others. In this sense, all gardeners are self-taught, while at the same time intrinsically connected to a tradition and a community that finds satisfaction through working the soil and sharing their experiences with one another. This column explores those relationships and how we learn about the world around us from plants and our fellow gardeners.


Return Home

One Comment   Add Comment

  1. Kathie Ragusa says:

    So beautiful. Thank u for sharing your adventures!

What's your opinion?

We welcome your comments and appreciate your respect for others. We kindly ask you to keep your comments as civil and focused as possible. If this is your first time leaving a comment on our website we will send you an email confirmation to validate your identity.

13-Acre Lake Buel Sanctuary

Friday, Nov 17 - Commune with nature in your own private park. This beautiful contemporary has gorgeous windows that virtually transport you to the outside,

“Turn Key” designers create an instant home

Friday, Nov 17 - Two designers who specialize in "Turn Key design" transform an empty house into a fully furnished home in under four weeks. Bringing with them little more than their toothbrushes and clothes, the thrilled owners could walk into their Turn Key vacation home, open a bottle of wine and relax.

Log Cabin: Expanding within and looking out

Friday, Nov 17 - We think of log cabins as dark, cozy but primitive housing. Not any more. Check out this amazing southern Berkshires renovation from architectural firm C&H Architects of Amherst, Mass.