the colloquialist

rudebeckia, erigeron, epilobium

What do you do to a garden and if you can’t stomach the hardscape, yet you’ve determined not to change it. For example the path to the front door is a material that’s hard to maintain or looks a wee bit cheap, or conversely cuts away at the heart of the garden, the parts that already work. Don’t panic, there may be a reasonable solution. In this case ask yourself the tough question.

Why, yes, WHY – the good go to for any rainy day. It can actually be some fun pinpointing what it is that throws something askew. For example you’ve got a grey house with white trim and a pink and grey cinder-block path and beds. Yes, somewhere this exists, let us remember to count our blessings. Now how to work around said issue. Let’s start by finding a good plant. The next problem is how to choose the right plant.  What is wrong or ugly… the pavers are too pink, they have gaps that let weeds in. Then maybe this is your handle. Like rock climbing, jam your hand in there and get some leverage. In this case THINK pink (or gray)! Think size and shape – what will fit in those cracks – keep the weeds out and the pretty comfortably situated. Now, also try placing the plant strategically near those problem areas. If the path is narrow and you want it to feel welcoming get a handle on the entry. Try placing it in a zig-zag pattern on either side of the path and keep the profile low. The eye will read the plant as a part of the path, yet your feet will always know where to step for sure footing. Why is this gonna look so good? Cause this is the way it is in nature, look at any roadside and this is the formula for success.

Okay, you got the idea, then where are you gonna find this great plant! Start your search by observing the garden as it is. What already thrives in your micro-climate and fits the bill we described above. If this doesn’t solve your problem walk around your neighborhood and see what similar houses have to suggest for your little garden puzzle. At first sight this may not be the plant you would pick out at the nursery that says “Look a me!” It could be more like the friend you didn’t like at first. Often what you choose as a stand alone is not what you want repeated visually over and over. And your gonna want it to get along with everyone else in your garden. So always remember what you like about your garden. If you’re still ambivalent maybe you don’t like the choices that have become the norm. Architectural parlance would say your concept or motivating principle hasn’t clarified yet. This will only reveal itself with time and repeated garden visits, so make friends with the watering can and use it as an opportunity to step away from the garden and observe it closely and regularly.

When you feel frustrated find a way to access your wonder. This may be akin to stepping off the path for a moment. The masters may have amazing technique (see Making Waves about Piet Oudolf as an example). But you don’t really care do you, go you’re own path. Since thinking on this topic I’ve had a chance to go for a few garden walks myself and I’m just amazed by the gardens I’ve been seeing this summer. Many have that Classic Italiante or Provencial French feel that is tasteful and understated with out being too self conscious. I’m really impressed by peoples innate sense of style.

Since my work seems to be done here my next suggestion would be sculpture and contrast. Something with a little punch AND get’s you thinking. A suggestion for Seattleites, get over to the Sculpture garden at SAM. Develop your narrative about what looks smart by checking out some big players they will get you thinking out of the box.

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