Having been a horticulturist working in the field of communications for more than 20 years already, I’m often asked if I have a garden. Obviously, the answer is yes. And this is often followed by the comment “It must be nice!” This is where the dream of my fabulous garden comes crashing down, because the answer is “No”!
Here’s a poorly shod shoemaker, you’re telling yourself. It’s a classic. There’s a bit of that, but it’s that’s not all. The truth is, I ‘m not fond of neatly kept and finely cut gardens. I love messy gardens!
What Exactly is a Beautiful Garden?
Aesthetics, beauty. Such subjective notions, in all fields, be it fashion, hairdressing, makeup, architecture, art, etc. Generally determined by social currents, the definition of beauty depends on few things and this definition changes over time. There was a time when a beautiful garden in Quebec had to have a rockery and a railroad tie wall! In the 2000s, you had to have a water garden and now you can’t do without an alignment of ornamental grasses in a rectangular flower bed! But in general, a beautiful garden is clean, neat with a nice, dark, uniform lawn. But in the end, all this isn’t based on much.
A Beautiful Garden, To my Eyes
From the first day when I was able to take advantage of my little plot of land to plant a myriad of plants, this garden in creation has always been an ecological garden. No pesticides, no synthetic fertilizers, no plastic stuff. Only plants well adapted to their growing environment. And over time, it has become a garden that I weed less and less, firstly because the plants occupy their full space and then because I tolerate wild spontaneity more and more. So, yes, over time my flowerbeds have gained freedom and I have gained precious minutes!
Ode to the Messy Garden
But fundamentally, I like these lawnless gardens, where everything is intertwined. Medium-sized plants support larger ones. Annuals reseed themselves everywhere and fill the smallest interstices. Some weeds are welcomed with open arms. Perennials and vines invade the shrubs. The strongest show their presence. Some elbow their way and they overflow everywhere! That’s pure happiness!
The messy garden is essentially a cottage garden or a mixed border, but with a wild touch. It’s less structured, less organized, less thought out, less thoughtful. It is more impulsive, more automatist. No one worries about the harmonies of colors, heights and textures. We plant what we love. It’s a jungle!
Fans of “beautiful gardens” see in this a lack of rigor or even laziness on the part of the gardener-owner. Personally, I see a desire to let nature splash the garden. I see it as a way to stimulate cohabitation and encourage biodiversity. The messy garden is a happy haven for insects, pollinators and birds. It is the most welcoming garden ever! And in fact, it is the garden that should supplant all the mundane lawns in the universe!
The messy garden is an ecosystem in itself. And in this era where large cities are struggling to grab and protect 13.5% (this is the Canadian average in 2021) of their natural territory for conservation purposes, messy gardens are a fabulous avenue for adding green spaces in residential areas. Let’s remember that Canada made a commitment to protect 30% of its territory during the recent COP15.
The Messy Challenge
The big problem with messy gardens is social acceptability. We experience the same issues with the development of bioretention cells, rain gardens and bioswales in residential areas. Citizens are not all ready to tolerate what they consider disorder, but which is simply the expression of nature. There’s still a lot of educational work to be done in order to demonstrate the many advantages of messy gardens and at the same time, the multiple negative impacts that gardens controlled with pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and thorough weeding can have.
And that’s why I am fascinated by messy gardens. It’s also why people remain unimpressed with my own garden and why in all honesty I can confidently say that my garden is not “beautiful” (by current aesthetic standards). Whatever. Basically, a garden should be beautiful in the eyes of its owner. I love my messy garden and I only have eyes for it.