Mint. Lavender. Roses.
These plants are a constant in my home garden. When planting for myself, I tend to stick to a simple approach to garden design. To avoid a “circus” look, my roses are planted in large sweeps of a similar color. I steer clear of mixing white with warm colors like red and orange. Even plantings of common six-pack annuals are carefully thought out—and usually dark or light blue. Groundcovers are consistently thyme or another herb. That’s not to say my garden isn’t gorgeous or thriving or fragrant—it’s just not very brave. I keep it clean and simple, and I stick to what I have always loved.
My garden habits are pretty similar to other aspects of my personality; I can watch the same television show about 20 times before I’m bored with it. I eat mint chip ice cream exclusively, and honestly get a little angry when my husband asks if I want to try something else. I wore the same cowboy boots that I’ve worn every day for the past year or two under my wedding dress simply because they fit and are comfortable. Those boots are now deemed my “wedding shoes” and I wear them to work in the garden, every day.
Being brave is not always my first thought. I am comfortable on the road mostly taken.
I found myself thinking of being brave during a recent garden party. A group of plant friends in the Bay Area takes turns meeting up in each other’s gardens to talk plants over beers. The last party was at Megan and Matti’s, whose San Francisco home (inside and out) is a true riot of color. Megan and Matti write a garden blog called Far Out Flora. As the name suggests, their aesthetic is pretty far out. Their garden is filled with bromeliads, succulents, and carnivorous plants—or, as Megan likes to call them, “weirdo plants.” Megan just goes for it! A red fence backs a bed filled with audacious plantings. Her balcony railing (also red) is topped with a random assortment of containers found in thrift shops filled with a collection of thriving succulents, cactus, and euphorbia that, outside of her creative talents, would otherwise look completely cheesy. Megan and Matti embrace the big, the bold, and the colorful. It looks interesting and odd and exciting, but comfortable and at ease. Each plant is well-tended and happy. You see their garden and think, why is mine so boring?
Julie, a close friend of mine since middle school, is a florist and owner of Willi Wildflower. Both Julie and I have been “doing flowers” together for many years, and my subtle tones look washed out next to her use of Christmas red, bright yellow, and orange. Julie uses amaryllis after the holidays are over for Pete’s sake! Brave.
It’s hard to ask people to rethink beauty, but Julie manages to do so with every bouquet she creates. Gorgeous arrangements of the odd and the beautiful toss together driftwood, moss, blooming branches, and ferns, to create stories and evoke memories. There’s no explaining or apologizing—her compositions are weird, textural, and always contain something hard to find. Thistle. Allium pods. Rose hips. Guava. Protea. It’s all very brave and you will love it. Julie’s garden in Capitola is very Julie. Surfboards dot a fence dripping with climbers you can tell get picked all the time. Her garage has been transformed into a floral studio where the windowsill is lined with her vintage bottle collection.
Recently, I was shopping for Japanese maple trees to plant on a steep, wooded slope in a client’s garden. I came across a local nursery with a large selection of the traditional Acer palmatum ‘Wolff’ (Emperor I®), a common variety with lovely red leaves in generously sized 15-gallon containers. I know this tree; I’ve planted it what seems like a million times. It works. I reached for the large pot to load it onto my cart when I noticed a scrawny but intriguing Acer palmatum ‘Fairy Hair’ in a smaller two-gallon size pot. I circled the tree a few times and thought of my bold and courageous plant pals, Julie and Megan. “They wouldn’t just get the ‘Wolff’,” I half muttered to myself. They would appreciate the almost tattered nature of the fine, pinkish green leaves and contrast it with a loud and fiery color. They would indulge in the weirdness and embrace the not-so-often.
I grabbed the ‘Fairy Hair’ maple and plopped it on my cart. “Now to find something else bold to partner with my new maple,” I thought.