From a design perspective, at times we need to reacquaint ourselves with the notion that — sometimes — less is more.
As gardeners, we know and value the importance of diversity. It’s a good thing, too. Each year, new varieties of everything flood the market, and we are encouraged to try them all. We want to try them all. Moreover, when these purchases don’t exactly live up to their promise, or when they grow 20 feet taller than we were expecting, we are loath to remove them. I’ve lived that. However, from strictly a design perspective, we sometimes need to reacquaint ourselves with the notion that — sometimes — less is more.
Here are some clues that it might be time for you to clean house: Visitors to your garden spin helplessly in circles and then weep; the last few times you showed your garden to visitors, someone tripped over a piece of garden art, fell into a bed and could not be found.
Another sign you need a garden edit, and a bad one, would be when the ratio of gazing balls, garden gnomes, tribute stones, stepping stones, wind chimes, banners, flags, containers, broken containers on their side spilling annuals, broken wheelbarrows on their side spilling annuals, bottle trees, wagon wheels, tiki torches, totem poles, pinwheels, birdbaths, and other artifacts exceed one to the square yard. I have literally fled gardens and sought refuge in a nearby casino where the flashing lights, ringing bells and Elvis imitators brought respite to my over-stimulated senses.
A great way to see your garden with “new eyes” is to take photos. If, when you look at them later, the only good photos are close-ups, you have a problem. New visitors to your garden don’t see it as a progression of close-ups. They walk in and take in an overview. Then they see it view by view as they stroll along. Individual plants and elements come later. A “view” is basically this: From wherever a natural viewing point of the garden is — whether it is 5 feet from the garden or 100 feet — a visitor can only see so much of it before they look elsewhere. A single view needs to make sense. It can have layers horizontally and vertically (foregrounds, backgrounds and tiers of canopy), it can have a lot of plants, but it should have a focal point. It should not have elements fighting for attention, clutter or the infrastructure of the garden in plain sight.
|Masses of one color complemented by a richness of textures allows the eye to flow with ease and comfort through this beautiful scene at Ball Flora’s Display Garden outside Chicago.|
The Vitex negundo (above) was rare, cool and deer-proof, but it was also poorly suited for this site. Removal improves the garden immediately (below) and provides a great location for something choice.
Once you have identified that certain beds suffer from too much of too much, you need to take action. Yes, it hurts to remove expensive garden art and thriving plants, but this is what artists do. The masters know which ideas to include and which to leave out. Hopefully, what is excess in one bed is the needed final touch in another, but, in the end, if something needs to go, let it go!
What needs to go? Remove dead and diseased stuff first. “Almost dead” qualifies. Overgrown material? Decide whether to prune it back or remove it, always mindful of the feasibility of keeping it in check. Got ugly plants? They go to heaven where their inner beauty is appreciated. Then, out with the disappointing — that heuchera that’s never once looked like the photo in the catalog, for instance. What about those two different weeping, red-foliaged species of rare shrub on standards side by side? They’re like two divas sharing the stage, each trying to upstage the other. You’re the director — pick a diva.
Garden art? Impose a limit of one per every other view. Maximum.
Hardscapes? Cohesiveness is the key. Too many different materials are like a fishmonger’s stew — less than the sum of its parts.
Remove all detritus — unneeded plant labels, tools, pots, that little bullpen of plants still in pots that we’ve all got, anything left behind in plain view from laziness or habit. Hide those things that detract from the beds you’ve carefully crafted. Get vines over fences. Conceal that old shed with evergreens.
Once you’ve taken these actions, the difference in your garden will be remarkable.
From State-by-State Gardening May/June 2013. Photos courtesy of Scott Beuerlein.