Illustration: Jean Martin Illustration
I suck at landscaping. Really, I’m terrible at it.
No matter how hard I work at learning and applying all the rules of the art—remembering to think about color harmony and choosing structures that fit together, etc. —, I end up never following them. And that’s because, you see, I’m essentially a plant collector.
Like a philatelist who insists on having all the postage stamps in the world or a numismatist who has an example of every coin ever produced, I want to own a one of every plant on the planet. The ones that I can’t grow in my outdoor garden, I’ll just grow them indoors.
How could you possibly make a beautiful, coordinated, socially acceptable garden with that kind of handicap?
There are some 391,000 plant species on Planet Earth. I think I have about 331,231 all around my house right now. Let’s just say that space is starting to get a bit rare.
My intentions, however, were always the best. Under the scramble of heterogeneous vegetation that covers my terrain, there are carefully aligned paths, charming garden ornaments, an adorable little pond (or at least there used to be: I haven’t seen it in years), even a relatively attractive suburban house … except you can’t see any of that. Rather, it’s a jungle out there.
The other day, I got lost in the tangle on my way home from a lecture and it took the search and rescue team 3 days to find me. Luckily, I didn’t lack for anything, as I freely mix vegetables and fruit trees among the ornamentals, so there is always something to eat.
A Cure for the Addiction?
I once tried to recover from my plant addiction.
I took an intensive course in landscaping with John Brookes, the late great English landscape designer, one of the most renowned in his field in all the world. I learned how to design a plan, to respect proportions and even to limit the choice of plants. However, when I presented the first draft to the master, he found it “a trifle busy”. So, I tried again and showed him a brandnew plan. Same comment. Then a third.
Exasperated with my efforts to include all of my plants, or at least my 1,700 favorite ones, in my project, Mr. Brookes finally told me, “Look, you’re supposed to be planning a home landscape, not a botanical Noah’s ark!”
Thank you, Mr. Brookes! Because until then, I really thought I wanted to learn how to create a beautiful landscape around my home, but his remark made it abundantly clear that it didn’t interest me at all. He was totally right: I wanted to create a Noah’s ark or, more to the point, a botanical garden, and live in it.
I haven’t even bothered trying to control myself since. Whenever I return from any excursion, the car, as usual, filled with pots and cuttings of wildly diverse and totally incompatible vegetation, I somehow manage to find a way to insert each one into the garden. It’s a total jungle out there, true enough, but such a wonderful jungle!
Just call me Tarzan!
THE most important thing is when you go into your garden, it makes YOU happy. It might not please everyone, but if your little slice of paradise pleases you, what more can you ask for?
We all enjoy our gardens differently. It annoys me that so many of us are expected to conform to stereotypes, and that so many actually do. My colleague down south is a renowned landscape designer, and his clients appreciate his distinct style. However, I have absolutely no use for such lavish landscapes. He lives in a square city lot in Los Angeles, but craves a thickly forested jungle style. I live in the forest, but crave the straight lines and symmetry of the city.
Thank you thank you thank you thank you! I live in the Middle East in a Mediterranean climate and unfortunately almost every kind of plant – succulent, cactus, tropical, subtropical, non-tropical, evergreen deciduous plant thrives in my backyard and I’m constantly being told they shouldn’t, but they do so thank you for corroborating the way I feel about gardening.