Real EstateHome, Garden & Design

The Self-Taught Gardener: The lineup     

More Info
By Thursday, Aug 3 Home & Garden More In Real Estate
The only time plants look good set in tightly spaced rows in the garden is in an allée of trees, or in the vegetable or cutting garden. Or perhaps in Victorian bedding schemes at historic houses.

For some reason, many gardeners seem to get their garden designs straight from the military, and this began way before Trump replaced his chief of staff with a general. As I travel about, I am amazed by the number of gardens I see with plants set out in straight rows, influenced no doubt by Napoleon’s deployment at the Battle of Waterloo. I suppose this linear thinking has some strategy behind it — after the flowers in the first row bloom and go on to seed, the next row, slightly taller, will have its moment, ending with the ornamental grasses in the back row going into flower as the season progresses. But this approach does not take in the most essential piece of information: plants are not soldiers. And when asked to perform in such a manner, they appear wan and unhappy, even at peak bloom. Maybe we got rid of the draft for the same reason? Some people do not work well in highly ordered settings.

Plants are also not people sitting in a movie theater aligned by height. I would have thought that people would understand this and appreciate the aesthetic advantage of grouping plants loosely or, as some landscape designers are doing today as they create more meadow-like effects, using chaos theory to plant things more randomly. But then I drive about and see city workers planting rows of begonias along the roadside, or I walk by corporate plantings with astilbes lined up as if they are heading to battle in front of office towers downtown. I would like to say this this approach is used today only in commercial settings, but how to explain a battalion of hostas marching in unison that I saw as I drove to an appointment in an elegant old neighborhood in south Minneapolis? Clearly, the military approach still has traction in the residential world as well. (At least it was not red geraniums!)

The military line-up of plants in a row is seldom visually appealing, and usually does not include plants that have much horticultural merit either.

The military line-up of plants in a row is seldom visually appealing, and usually does not include plants that have much horticultural merit either.

Something about this approach always makes me think that I will not like the owners. In my imagination, these gardens must be the work of retired policemen and military officers, or accountants, all of whom might ask me questions about my approach to gardening that would confound me, such as why I did not put my cosmos in a long row, just behind their shorter statured annual cousins. I assume these are the same people whose lawns look like they never grow, being given a crew cut at least twice a week so that they look respectful – and respectable.

This sweet house has taken on a new life, as its traditional front lawn has given way to hydrangeas and ornamental grasses and comes into its own in midsummer. I imagine the owners just gave away their lawnmower, relieving themselves of the weekly lawn chores, and traded it in for a garden hoe.

This sweet house has taken on a new life, as its traditional front lawn has given way to hydrangeas and ornamental grasses and comes into its own in midsummer. I imagine the owners just gave away their lawnmower, relieving themselves of the weekly lawn chores, and traded it in for a garden hoe.

But as I was driving this past week through another neighborhood – one that charmed me — I saw another sensibility, perhaps also inspired by military tactics, but very different from the straight-line approach I so dislike. And this approach bestilled my seemingly pacifist heart. On a tree-lined block in southeast Minneapolis, a series of bungalows and stucco cottages have embraced guerilla warfare and its tactics of invasion. Lawns have been left behind and a cacophony of plants — some shade-loving perennials, some meadow specimens, and even a few conifers and hydrangeas — have taken over (plants were selected depending on whether the site was shade or sunny, of course.) These front yards were captivating. Some of them felt wild and unruly as they exploded with colorful flowers and a broad range of leaf shapes intermixed with one another. It was Gettysburg without the bloodshed – sprawling and chaotic, with soldiers working their way up and down the hillsides with even a few hanging in the trees, using the landscape and its form to best advantage.

This bungalow seems even more inviting with an array of shade-loving plants cascading to the street. It is as inviting as a waterfall and a mountain stream.

This bungalow seems even more inviting with an array of shade-loving plants cascading to the street. It is as inviting as a waterfall and a mountain stream.

I looked around and felt perhaps the war was being won by the stronger tacticians, at least in this neighborhood. And there was no doubt in my mind as to which militia I would be rooting for.

____________

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

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.

Winter is coming. Get ready!

Friday, Oct 13 - An experienced property manager shares his "dozen to-dos" to get your home and gardens ready for winter.