Thursday, April 2, 2015

Perspectives on Ways to Garden

I think that gardeners who are paying attention are becoming less certain of what a “proper" garden (as an English friend used to say) actually is. I have been reading a fairly new book that Noel Kingsbury wrote with Piet Oudolf called Planting, A New Perspective. It is a provocative book on the topic of plantings that emulate, in many respects, natural plant communities except they are aesthetically designed and they utilize ornamental plants which do not necessarily share common ecosystems. I have experimented with this type of planting and remain mystified by how to sustain them. I also recently read a book called Bringing Nature Home by Rick Darke and Douglas Tallamy. Their brilliantly instructively illustrated book emphasizes gardening predominantly with native plants in stable associations. It was very convincing. I see similarities between the two in style but not in substance. Those two approaches remind me of the multiplicity of approaches to gardening and all the associated consequences beyond the desired appearance. 

In this image below of Kingwood Center in Mansfield Ohio the calendar is dictating the end date of a garden still in full bloom. It seems ridiculous at first blush, but if there is to be a spring display the summer crop must come out in time to plant the bulbs.

The next image of a seasonal planting in Connecticut is a classic, but today’s sustainable gardeners might say it’s a rich man’s conceit, a display of resources at his command. And they would be right, but does that make it a bad garden?

Below is a rose garden on June 23rd  at the Columbus (Ohio) Park of Roses. Here is an entire garden dedicated to plants that probably need more care and attention than any other plant a gardener is likely to choose, yet here it sits out of bloom and contributing almost nothing at a time when most gardens are in their glory. But who would dare disparage a rose garden?  
On the other side of the gardening pendulum we see in the image below what seems to be a beautiful informal, sort of wild looking planting at the Berlin Botanical Garden. Look closer. I took this picture largely because it includes, Equisetum (horsetail) which is about the most obdurate weed I know. It will be a permanent and aggressive fixture in that garden until everything is removed and all traces of the Equisetum are destroyed. I have had similar experiences repeatedly with Agropyron repens (quackgrass), which is probably easier to control than Equisetum. It is this sort of experience that mystified me about the Kingsbury/Oudolf approach. Removal of the horsetail would be about a draconian two year project with no guarantee of success.

Below is a lovely looking scene at my home of blooming Stylophorum diphyllum (celandine poppy). Unfortunately it represents the failure of an attempt to create a beautiful and stable community of native and floriferous garden plants. One species is taking over and driving all the other species out in the process. Nevertheless I see the Stylophorum diphyllum as a valuable tool in a Darke/Tallamy type gardening where it could be confined by bordering shrubs.

Then we come to this proud community of cultivated plants that seem to be stable, growing in a Berlin park. (The first six or seven feet of perennials up to the shrubs) If they are indeed a compatible community, it represents the work of a very knowledgeable gardener. But what has been achieved aesthetically compared to a more conventional garden? Was I evaluating this garden at the wrong time (July 9th) or is it kind of nondescript? 


My conclusion is that there is room for all of the above. There is no such thing as a “proper” garden. We work in a multitude of circumstances with many ambitions and goals. While I certainly have my preferences I applaud the achievement of all of the gardening goals represented in the pictures above and the skills required to achieve them.

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