Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Following up on many of the comments on my last post, about my visit to Butchart Gardens, I decided to explore what it is I like about garden visits. Why some gardens excite me so much I will go back to them time and time again, given the chance, while others I don't need to give a second look. It seems that my other garden readers are of the same opinion, although we may actually differ in the kind of gardens we like.
I already knew before we went to Butchart that I was unlikely to be paying a return visit and not because of the distance and effort to get there. I am just not excited by mass plantings of the same plant. Much as I love geraniums and snapdragons one or two are enough for me, interspersed among other flowers and shrubs.
So what do I look for in a garden? Maybe what I like has something to do with where I grew up. I spent the first 23 years of my life in England. I never had my own garden but I was fortunate to grow up in a lovely garden.

 It was surrounded by walls. Within those walls the garden was divided into several areas of interest. The rose garden with crazy paving pathways, trellises and archways, the lawn, the vegetable garden hidden behind the rockery, and the greenhouse where we loved to go on a cold summer's day. You wanted to go explore, pass through the archway and see what was beyond. In those days almost every house in England was surrounded by either walls or fences. Some front gardens were barely 6' deep but you would still find a low wall separating the house from the street. When I came to North America I found a different kind of garden. Large expanses of grass flowing from one house to another, the space dotted with shrubs and trees. The same in the back garden. There were no fences on the street where we bought our first house in Canada and none across the back. I soon changed that. I needed my boundaries marked! We put in a post and rail fence around three sides of the back garden. Now I had something against which I could design a garden.

If I told you Sissinghurst, Hidcote, Snowshill, Stone House garden are some of my favorite gardens I think you would understand immediately. I like walled gardens and I don't want a garden to give  itself up in one glance.

Yes, these are large gardens but the same can be achieved in a small garden. It takes structure to separate a small garden into interesting places. More and more I realize that it is the structure I like more than anything and that is what I am looking for when I visit a garden. I want there to be enough interest to make me stop and linger, to sit on that bench and absorb what I see.

And I want to take home some ideas that I can incorporate into my own garden space.

Sunken garden October 2010
I know I picked up my idea for a sunken garden somewhere along the way but I did have to give it a Texas tweak.


  1. It's funny how we always come back to what we grew up with. My dad's garden was a wild mass (mess!) of different colors and textures-thrown willy-nilly together. I didn't think I really "saw" it as a child.....but looking at my own busy mess (mass?), I can see his garden perfectly.
    I can't get over how relaxing your garden is. I like the hand Ma Nature plays in it. I'm slowly learning to let some things seed. That was tough for me to do...but the results are so much more relaxed and natural.

  2. I grew up here in Central Texas in a neighborhood dotted with post-WW2 homes erected to house returning GIs coming to study on their GI bill benefits. I saw it as "natural" to have expanses of unfenced lawn. Walls were quite unusual - features of custom built "Spanish-style" homes.

    Structure has come to be the thing I admire most - and ironically struggle the most - to provide in our own garden spaces. Those larger (and more expensive) strokes are always a little intimidating for me.

    Now I am a full blown lawn averse fence/wall/structure lover. I haven't quite made that transition visually complete in our current spaces but the ongoing work is part of the fun. I'm not sure what I'd do with a garden I felt was "done"!

  3. I'm like you...I've been to the mass planting gardens as well and don't like them near as much as the tourists around me. What I enjoy about smaller gardens are their intimacy. I like the way you phrased it...a garden that doesn't give itself away all at once. I always wish we had walls in our gardens here in Houston. But our neighborhoods seem stuck on the traditional wooden fences. Still, I love going to rocky areas like central Texas to see all the stone walls and the gardens inside of them. Nice post!

  4. I didn't grow up with much of any exposure to garden or gardening but, in my first step out with my postage stamp sized garden at our 1st house, I embraced the idea of creating an enclave of peace in a busy urban setting. Now that I have somewhat more space, I still like the feeling of rooms within the garden (not the Jamie Durie kind, but spaces with separate personalities). I also think a garden must have surprises to keep things interesting - mass plantings of annuals quilted together are pretty but not especially interesting. I love the garden you've created in Texas and can only hope that my "new" garden will have a similar vibe someday...

  5. Ah...your childhood gardens, come through in your current garden design...the walls, the archways and different gardens.

    I love the photos of your walls, with all the plants.

    I grew up with walled gardens. But, there were different 'areas'. That was all before those areas were called 'rooms'.

    I like having our open view here, through the wire fence. But, I also miss having a backdrop for plants...something to stop the eye. Even wooden privacy fences are good for that.

    By the way...that's a cute young lady, with a very cute bonnet.

  6. Great post! You have done exactly what you love about the big gardens to your own garden. There's always something interesting around the corner or in the next garden area. My parents grew up in the middle of the Bronx with no garden. I grew up in suburban Texas with fenced in backyards, grass, shrubs and trees, and not much else. Where on earth did I pick up the gardening gene? Maybe from my grandparents who were farmers from Ireland. Who knows? But I know what I like when it comes to gardens.

  7. I think you are right - it is the gardens we knew as children that influences the plants we grow now, and how we grow them. I know that I find myself drawn to plants that my mother liked to grow. And she liked to use large rocks to define her flower beds - I'm doing the same thing!
    Happy Gardening!
    Lea's Menagerie

  8. I grew up with the big, open yards of the suburbs in the southeastern U.S., with woods to play in all around. I think that's why I love nature. It didn't teach me to love walled gardens, however. That came from visiting many gardens as an adult and discovering what I liked. I'd love to have some colored walls in my current garden, but man are they expensive.

  9. I'm glad I was able to visit Butchart but I agree, once was enough. I prefer gardens that change and evolve naturally.

    One of the best things I've done here on my corner of Katy was to have the interior of my wooden fence stained a soft sage green. It's a much more pleasing backdrop for the plants than the natural wood color.


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