July 18, 2010

Not My Thing, but...

The Connecticut Horticultural Society sponsored an open garden tour today of a landmark house that sits on a busy street where the exuberant gardens routinely stop traffic.

This private home is well known --- Chrissie D'Esopo's gardens have been featured in Fine Gardening magazine and others.  You just can't miss all the stuff going on in the front and side yards as you pass by on the street.  The house itself is classic New England Greek Revival, beautifully kept among riotous gardens and stately old shade trees.  It's a head turner.

From the street the lush annuals --- impatiens and petunias --- yell at you to come on in.  Nothing subtle here.  A walk up the driveway showcases garden after garden, leading to the garage and barns and back yard.

Cleome, daylilies, some black eyed susans, and lots of edging annuals.

I was unprepared for how the vista opened up beyond the garage, into a vast hillside of color climbing up the deforested slope.

The gardens cut into the forest wall had shrubs, arborvitae, some scattered perennials, and there's a fishpond and mini waterfall in there too.  But mostly the slope was covered, absolutely covered, with roundy moundy containers of petunias and impatiens.  Buckets of them, pots of them, urns and planters and bowls of annuals.  Some placed on the ground, some on the flat tops of tree stumps, some sitting on level rocks.

And every garden below the slope was edged in petunias and impatiens.  Sweet potato vines and petunias hung from baskets on the barn wall.

There were nice touches ....

.... and

.... and a shady grape arbor leading from a lush jumbled kitchen garden.

But mostly the gardens were garish, the forms were all rounded mounds, and the repetition and scale of the plantings was exhausting.  There had to be thousands and thousands of containers of petunias and impatiens, and just as many in the ground, edging every garden feature. 

Every plant looked steroidal, aggressively blooming and cascading immensely.  Some hostas tucked into the hillside were as big as elephants.  Ipomeas vining among the annuals were threatening.  The basic perennials scattered about (foxgloves, rudbeckia, some bee balm, daylilies) looked frightened.

Even the moss in the cool shade was scary, formed up into a dragon just as the sunlight splattered on the ferns making it look like this fellow was spewing fire.

This garden was just not my thing, and not to the taste of many gardeners. 

But here's what I loved about it.  It is unapologetically genuine.  The same few annuals are repeated over and over, but with tremendous confidence and assurance.  It is overfed, overblooming, and excessive, but the gardener's delight in her creation is evident.  It is inappropriate for the surroundings; no New England reserve here, no melding of woodland plants into their forested slope.  But it is exuberantly inappropriate, showcasing a childlike overindulgence in contrast to the strong bones of traditional house and barns, dark shady maples and hillside.

I hated it but I loved it.  I loved it because it shows us that there is no "right" way to garden.  There is room for so many different tastes and designs--- just do it well and with enthusiasm.

Here's a video that Whiteflower Farm did of these gardens, extolling the design and execution of all the chaos!


  1. This garden isn't what I would do either however you have to appreciate the love of gardening she has. She must be a force to contend with. I love her mossy dragon. What a hoot.

  2. A little mound-overdo going on ... but to each her own. I also like the mossy dragon and the sense of humor shown by it's surroundings. Did you find out how many gardeners she employs to care for her gardens?

  3. Ah, I did love the moss alligator (dragon?), actually. I wouldn't have it in my yard because I can't think I'd work that hard for it. But I still admire the whimsy. And you know I'd be drooling over a grape arbor leading to an overgrown kitchen garden. :)

    Otherwise, I agree, Laurrie. Two things popped into my head, just looking at the first shot, before I'd read further: "Oh, my God, the cost!" -- because buying all those annuals every year must be a serious expenditure, not to mention the cost of the containers. And the other thing? "Hello, chemical fertilizer." It looks unnatural and forced to me, overbright, like a woman wearing too much makeup, forced to sing for her supper. Also, I wonder how alive such a monocropping is... do butterflies and bees even visit petunias and impatiens?

    Oh, wait, I think I read on Villager's blog that butterflies visit his Wave petunias... Still, not my style, either.

  4. Lisa, I agree, you do have to appreciate her enthusiasm!

    Joene, she must have armies working on these highly structured gardens--- just to water.

    Meredith, it did look so unnatural and forced. Lots of fertilizer going on there. There actually were bee attracting perennials and veggies, it was just overwhelmed with the pots of annuals.

  5. Laurrie, I am glad that you used the word garish first!

  6. Hi Laurrie, Wow - that would be exhausting! But I have to tell you, if I saw that garden when I was a child, it would be my favourite house on the street. It does have its own exuberant charm - like a picture book. (Love the mossy guy, my son would be thrilled to see it!) :-)

  7. It is colorful and exuberant! I would hate to have to fertilize and water it. Definitely not my style either, but if you stand back the tapestry effect is great. And, as the mother of boys, I love the moss dragon in his primeval forest of ferns!

  8. Deborah, "garish" was the mildest description I could think of!

    Garden Ms. S, there was definitely a childlike enthusiasm and the cool little moss dragon reinforced the fun part of it all.

    Marian, thanks for visiting. The dragon was almost missed, hiding in the shade of the house foundation.

    Deborah, the tapestry effect is more evident in photos; standing in the garden it was hard to see any cohesion and the effect was more chaotic.

  9. Wow ... now I'm a big fan of both petunias and impatiens, but I've never seen so many in a garden! As I scrolled down ... I was rather taken aback!

    My first thought was ... way too much hard work here! It must cost am absolute fortune to keep this garden going! Not really my cup of tea ... although I so loved the dragon! Still, if it gives so much pleasure to the gardener ... that's what counts!

  10. But with so much reliance on annuals, what will it look like in winter?

  11. Fern, my thought exactly... what is there to see in winter?

  12. Bernie, I do think she gets pleasure from her crazy garden, but I sure would wilt under all that work.

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