I’ve made many gardens over the years. In truth I should say I’ve made many, many (many, many) gardens. It all began with a minor messing-about-outdoors dalliance and quickly progressed to more “serious” endeavors built around roses and herbs—I even had a knot garden. Sixteen years in the nursery trade fed an escalating plant-accumulation phase, which was perhaps inevitably followed by a period of attempting to tame the horticultural tiger I had loosely by the tail.
Fast forward to four years ago: the adjacent greenbelt once filled with blackberries, black bamboo, morning glory and nettles—weedy but sheltering—was stripped to the subsoil. For the next two years a cacophonous, muddy building site swarming with trucks and a large crew on the property next door dominated our backyard. The garden, as was the gardener, was in ruins. I’ll spare you the blood, the sweat, and yes, the tears.
Garden design is many things: art, science, traveling through space (and time), but primarily it is an exercise in problem solving. It was time for a garden do-over (again), and I needed help. I consulted Seattle designer Virginia Hand to help me see past the garden(s) I’d known for nearly 20 years to the possibilities of my future landscape.
My wish list included privacy, a vegetable garden, room for gathering, dining (and napping) outdoors, an organized workspace, various artifacts collected over the years, with room leftover for all my favorite plants. This is probably the time to mention that our city lot is a typical 60 x 120 foot property—and there’s a house on it.
Our investment in a designer’s time to help us find our way forward was invaluable and I learned about the dynamism of a diagonal line! But the execution of all that waving about of arms and rough sketches was very much a DIY project. We called in friends and family. We dug (apparently they’ll let just about anyone rent an excavator), we graded, we poured concrete and shoveled gravel, and in one epic weekend we built our shelter—the very heart of our new garden. That was the first year. In 2014 I shopped and planted and watered and fussed to my heart’s content and watched as the garden began to take shape and come to life.
Many years ago I wrote in the introduction to my first book, Hortus Miscellaneous, “…nothing in the garden really changes—the sun, a seed, some moisture, and you have begun. It is our culture and our selves that change in response to making a garden, and that is a process of endless fascination.”
Today, while still very much a work-in-progress, my garden plays nicely with nature, is easy on the gardener, and provides a stage from which to observe birds, bees, wildlife, and the ever-changing seasons. It’s filled with grasses and wildflowers, perennials, evergreens, and produces an abundant harvest for much of the year. A nascent crabapple pleached hedge reveals my penchant for at least a touch of formality.
Best of all it’s a place to gather.
I hope you’ll join me on August 22, 2015 from 10am to 3pm when I open the garden to benefit Pacific Horticulture Society—a community of designers, nursery professionals, horticulturists, and passionate home gardeners: my people.