At a cocktail party last weekend, I was introduced to a martini-wielding woman who wanted to know about my “gardening philosophy.” Since I was holding a martini too, the following words flew out of my mouth: “Learn from experience.”
And here, just for fun, are some of the things I’ve learned from designing, planting, and nurturing my own little corner of the world:
1. Always Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Could Do Today. In other words, avoid making rash decisions. Sure, the garden center’s half-priced magnolia tree might seem like a bargain. But don’t bring it home until you have pondered — very carefully — its realistic value in your garden.
2. Beware the “Free” Plant. From time to time, friends and neighbors will offer you perennials from their own gardens. More often than not, these “gifts” are limited to orange daylilies, or such invasive horrors as goose-neck loosestrife. Speaking from experience, few gardeners are willing to part with their choice treasures!
3. Do Your Digging on Paper. When planning a new border, work it out first on a sheet of graph paper, or, if you have a landscaping program installed on your computer, map it out there. Having a real plan — and sticking to it — will pay off in the long-run. Both your back and your wallet will thank me for this advice.
4. Practice Emphasis & Repetition. As you plan, strive for emphasis throughout the garden by repeating drifts of the same plants. Repetition gives the garden unity and strength. “One of everything” plantings always looks weak.
5. Consider a Water-Feature. Beverly Nichols once proclaimed that “A garden without a water feature is no garden at all.” Where money is scarce, and the garden is small and informal, a simple bucket sunk into a hole can count as a pond. Trust me — frogs and birds that gather there won’t complain. If money permits, consider a three-tiered fountain for a formal setting, or a moderately-sized, field stone-surrounded pond for a woodland garden.
6. Increase Your Space. If your propert is small, enlarge it. Plant a tall hedge of arborvitae bang in the middle of your yard, leaving, of course, a 4-foot-wide passage-way at its center. Visually, this will double your territory — and hence your pleasure.
7. Frame your Picture. When you enclose your property with a wooden fence or an evergreen hedge, you instantly produce an artist’s landscape, regardless of what grows within it. Like a framed painting, a framed yard is visually more appealing than an open, unrestrained one.
8. A Formal Garden Makes Light Work. Contrary to popular thinking, a formal garden with straight lines and definite curves is far easier to maintain than a “cottage”-type informal one. My boxwood garden — a series of geometric patterns framed with upright yews — requires nothing more than shearing once or twice each year to keep its looks. Meandering perennial gardens, although glorious to behold, require massive upkeep to look their best. Just ask anyone who has attempted to follow in Gertrude Jekyll’s footsteps.
Now…what about you? What lessons have you learned from your own gardening adventures?
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More Gardening, Cooking and Decorating Fun:
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My Herb Garden, or How To Decorate Rich (Even When You’re Not)
From Hellish Hill to “Serpentine Garden”
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Crusty Sourdough Boule
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