08 August 2012
Many of us have inherited gardens and are working to keep them going. One dilemma is how to preserve the garden left by the ancestor and still work with the inevitable change that goes on in every garden.
All gardening is done in the moment but develops into itself only in the long run. Take Chanticleer Garden near Philadelphia; conceived over 100 yrs ago and still being laid out and planted according to plan. Has the garden grown over time to be what the original planner intended? Or have some of the experiments ended. Does the golden cypress still look good with the purple smoke tree even after half the smoke tree broke off in the last storm? Has the light changed due to the fast growth of one element in such a way as to alter the development of another element? How much of my father’s garden can I change because it is not working and still be true to his concept, still recognize it as his garden, his legacy? It’s not that it is an historic garden that has to be the evidence of a former time like Monticello. It’s not that it even has a written plan.
Gardens like Maymont or Lewis Ginter remain and evolve. The older part of Maymont was planted all at one time 100+ years ago and much can be learned about historic planting and the comparison of mature trees. It is now a huge public place with an animal park and a learning center. Lewis Ginter was an estate garden which has been expanded into a large multifaceted landscape with a lake, T-room, education complex and large Victorian style glass house full of tropicals. Both host many public and private events, but the original garden remains. Most of our home gardens are not headed that way.
In my own garden, when things are out of hand and the yellow iris has spread too much at the pond edge or the nandina coming down the lane is just unsightly, I can end the experiment. The data is in. It looks bad. When I finally cut down the blue spruce which was the host to repeated infestations of bagworms, no one noticed and I can see the rest of the garden looks better. When I get a chance to sit and contemplate and some tree or branch is in the way, bothering my peace of mind, interfering with the repose, it is time to get up and get the saw out and whack that thing off; just cut it down or pull it out. It’s a bold move, almost too difficult. Then, when it is done, I never notice the loss. The experiment is over, the decision made.
My whole outlook on gardening has evolved and my current ideas are replacing my old ideas. My new self replaces my old self just like I have replaced my father as the head gardener at the homeplace. Gardens develop like the rings of growth on a tree; the tree remains but the size and shape differs. The core of the garden which he planted will be there but the lines curve in and out according to my whimsy. The skyline of the older plantings has emerged with some permanence while at the edges, new collections of hosta or heuchera add new interest and my style shines through.
Sunny Lenz is a professional gardener and landscape painter working in and around central Virginia.