June 8, 2011

Jane's Garden

My tour guide
What do you like best about your garden?  Can you answer that?

Yesterday I took a tour of my friend Jane's garden, and I thoroughly enjoyed how very different it is from mine.  She gardens on very steep slopes, under the twisted architecture of gnarly crabapple relics, surrounded by tall shady pines.

Her garden tumbles and wanders.  Plants mingle and grab each others' spaces.  They pop up in unexpected places. Nothing is edged or neat or trimmed.  Tag sale finds, urns, pots and benches are hidden everywhere.  Statues and goofy things lurk in the foliage.  Stuff invades.

I don't see any weeds.  Do you see weeds?
It is a wild garden.  You would think such a shady, quiet space would be serene and restful, but it is exuberant.  It surprises.

And, as any gardener giving a tour will do, Jane apologized at every turn, explaining that weeding had gotten away from her, mowing had been abandoned, things were escaping, and the whole design in general had been co-opted by the willfulness of her plants.  Oh, what's that doing there?  I didn't plant it.

She's an avid plantswoman and clearly loves her garden, so I asked her "what do you like about it?  What gives you pleasure out here?"

Without missing a beat, she said "the surprises".  Yes.

This garden delights Jane when she walks about.  The hidden stuff always offers an "aha" as a little statue reveals itself behind a shrub, or a hint of a glass ball glistens like a giant soap bubble among the hostas.  A funny bird sculpture in the distance catches the eye.

In my small, open, neatly trimmed yard so many tchotchkes would look like the truck overturned on the way to the garden center display area.  But in her wild jumbled garden with its steep slopes and deep spaces, the treasures are multiple and hidden and random, and they surprise gleefully.

The contours of her acreage offer mystery as the land turns, follows a path, runs downhill or disappears into the deep shade under the spreading arms of a crabapple.  Far below, toward an unseen river gorge, a humongous upturned willow tree rests with its roots in the air.  Jane says they will not remove the dead tree; it is part of the wildness of this place, and kind of an interesting sculpture all on its own.

And the willful behavior of her plants delights her too.  There are always surprises as weeds and perennials mix it up, and things show up that shouldn't, or move, or spread in an unexpected way.
She built this area, hauling buckets of pea gravel by hand.  Houttuynia creeps, but hasn't overtaken.

A long wall (actually a chipmunk condo) tames an unmowed grassy hillside

She built this pond that tumbles downslope.  Frogs abound while turtles spy.

Everywhere there are treasures, even a simple pot in a shady nook

She didn't plant this.  It just appeared.

A happy combination.  The gardener takes credit.

Ninebark and Ogon spirea in a great color combo.

Another great plant combo

(Hmmm, is the birdcage to threaten the avian residents or remind them of their freedom?)
I liked the fact that Jane could answer so specifically what it is that inspires her in this garden.  It's the surprises.  She has created a world that makes her stop, and blink, and smile, over and over again.  Despite the weeds, the work, the plans gone awry and the plants gone missing, she is endlessly rewarded.  I love it.

What is it that you like best about your garden?


  1. Laurrie, Jane's garden looks so lovely, I love the comment about the chipmunk condo. I will definitely be using that one. My favorite part about my garden is my hammock area. It's probably one of the only spots in my garden that is almost 'right'. Everything else is still a major work in progress.

  2. What a fun garden. The plants look good and I like the tucked in surprises.

  3. shoot, lost my comment, hopefully this doesn't show up twice. I really like how you describe your friend's garden and her thoughts about it. As I create a new garden I'm trying to figure out my style and what it is I want my space to feel like and your description of how her style grew and changed hit home for me.

  4. Your friend's garden is special because she put so much of herself in it. I like her gravel and rock area. Your photo makes it look like it can out of a magazine. And the chipmunk condo, that is a fine looking wall.

  5. I can see why you like your friends garden so much. It looks so natural. I couldn't do the unmown grass here though. I would be afraid that chiggers would take up residence. I like the way my garden has "all of this". This is what people say when they go into my back garden. I have heard "I didn't realize you had all of this back here". I don't have exotic plants but I have paths and it feels like more than a square suburban garden.

  6. Debbie, Your 'almost right' hammock area sounds great. Wish I had a place to put one!

    Gardener on Sherlock, thanks, it really is a fun garden to visit.

    Marguerite, I too am struggling to figure out what I want my garden to do and how it should work as a whole, not just how some of the plants should look together.

    Donna, Her wall and her gravel area were really well done, I thought. The bones of a garden!

    Lisa, how great that you could create more than a square suburban yard in your back garden with its paths and depths.... that's what I am struggling to create here.

  7. What a wonderful garden. I would love to wander around Jane's fabulous creation and discover lots of little surprises! Your photos show so many terrific garden spaces.

  8. What a beautiful garden! My favorite part of my garden is that it is now weedless!! I finally invested in some landscaping fabric to keep the weeds at bay since I was always dreading going outside and having to week. If anyone else has that problem I highly recommend this stuff from Gempler's.


    But besides that I also love my tomato plants that are growing :).

  9. Oh, I would love to visit Jane's garden! I like the "wildness" of it, which seems to suit her property. Your eloquent description of it shows that you appreciate the beauty of it, too, Laurrie. The chair by the wall looks like the perfect place to sit and take it all in, even if it is a chipmunk condo:)

    What do I like best about my garden? I guess it would be the diversity and the constant surprises. The lesson on planting in drifts didn't take with me--I seem to be more of a "one of this and one of that" kind of gardener:) But it does mean there is something always new going on in the garden.

  10. Laurrie, there's much to be said about your friend's approach to her garden. She probably enjoys it the most as she owns it and it doesn't own her.

  11. Hi Laurrie,
    I love your question. Its a good one. I don't have as ready an answer as your friend, but the fact that a garden surprises would be high on my list of reasons. I also take great pleasure in visiting and photographing other peoples gardens. It always amazes me just how different and unique each garden is.

  12. Bernie, thanks, it really is a great garden for wandering.

    Christina, I hope you do win your battle with the weeds now!

    Rose, diversity and surprises are wonderful, and I like that you always have something new in your garden : )

    Wendy, that is a great way to put it: Jane's garden does not own her!

    Jennifer: I have been surprised too, at how different the styles can be in other people's gardens. When I began, I thought there was only one "right" way for a space to look... not so.

  13. I LOVE this garden!! I wish I had that much space to ramble in. I think I would like Jane. I love being surprised by my garden. It reminds me I am not in control, but rather just a happy accomplice.

  14. TS, I think you would like Jane too! I'm glad her garden delights you.

  15. That rose just showed up? Nice!

    What do I like best about my garden... hmmm, probably what's adjacent to it and surrounding it. lol Without that I wouldn't have the Summer Tanagers and Red-Tailed Hawks, Gray Fox and Wood Ducks and Prothotary Warblers.

    What I really like about Jane's garden is that it is an expression of her own style, and it's unique.

  16. Sweetbay, what surrounds you and is adjacent is the frame for what you plant. Jane's rose was planted by a former owner long ago, but lost in the overgrowth until it popped up to be noticed!

  17. Laurrie,
    your friend Jane's garden is just awesome and I can see, she put a lot of her personality in it.

    My garden is only small and if you ask me what I like the best about it, so I only could answer, it is the small but daily changes in the garden that I like the best and the peace and relaxation I find in my garden.
    Happy Gardening
    Paula Jo

  18. Paula Jo, thanks. Finding peace and relaxation in your own garden is a major benefit!


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