Photo courtesy FlickrTurning the garden over to native plants set me outside the commercial mainstream of horticulture. The decision to go native was contrarian: there are no native plants in this area. If the whole neighborhood went native, I’d probably put in Tropicana roses and a ton of marigolds.
I used to spend hours cultivating plants that had enchanted me in catalogues and nurseries. I read a fair amount, hung out with plantswomen, and learned that commercial horticulture evolved along with the suburb in Victorian England. Previously, new plants were fostered on estates. Their forms and colors were subtle. The newly prosperous suburbs supported the market for bright and brash plant forms.
I like flashy as much as the next kid, but it’s good to know the difference so the origins of garden practice will inform choices rather than decree them. Respect the neighbors and add insight to local custom. (In my area, local custom has included free experimentation.)
The most beautiful garden I ever saw, bar none, belonged to a former classmate who had grown up in a trailer. As a child, she had no training in the domestic arts and grew up to be extremely bright, rational, and justifiably confident. Much of my work is influenced by her choices.
When I visited Carla’s house in Portland, I found it set in a grove of youngish Doug fir. Needles carpeted the frail lawn. Aside from the trees, the only plant on the property was a yellow tea rose growing in half a whiskey barrel. It sat in the only patch of sun on a broad, brown-stained entry deck that matched the house. In its weathered barrel against a dark background, the rose glowed as if in a spotlight.
I have never experienced that kind of visual impact from so spare an installation. It was as if Carla had transformed the western ocean view of her girlhood into an ocean of shade. The generous grounds were a perfect range for her four kids and their friends, with the dry, thready turf showing no damage from feet and bikes.
-30- More after the jump.