The garden is a dynamic creature, hatched and etched in the mind

The beast is sometimes drawn on vellum or on paper with borders

Drawn to scale one quarter inch is one foot, one eighth of an inch is one foot

It is birthed and grows awkwardly

Stumbling through the natal stages called planning groundbreaking and installation

Well, a garden is not a set, not a one time deal, not an exhibit in a gallery

It is a creature very much alive, a demanding life form that requires care and love and


Imagine the garden as a mutually beneficial, symbiotic endeavor between people and plants

Words can only approximate

The scene behind the magnolia tree the dew hanging poppy and the cheerful summer iris

Maintenance seems a word

Better suited to five years or 50,000 miles, car maintenance

Or keeping up with a certain standard of living – maintaining ones status

There is a monotony melancholy mistaken misery in calling the action filled gardening tasks of

Pulling pruning planting propagating, digging turning building amending cultivating


Do you call tooth brushing facing washing eating breakfast stretching exercising working

The basic duties of life –

Maintenance?  How sad that sounds, where is the joy in ‘maintenance’?

Perhaps there is no better word though

Let’s just fudge and nudge this one, rather than invent something new

Okay garden maintenance it is

Maintenance is design


In the best garden designs

There is a human built into it

Because you recognize that – no human no maintenance no design – it is that simple

Because the tree grows big and grows old

Way past the 10 foot circle drawn on the original landscape plan

A shrub limbs stretches and bows and starts to swallow the sun loving lavender lily loropetalum

A good gardener can prune a shoot here, take a tip there, keep it in line

Then scoot a perennial this way, and move the lemon tree outa the shade

Encourage the ground cover, and meticulously pluck the weed seeds emerging

Mold it, work with it, adapt it to fit, so the design holds and stays intact

The flow the mood the balance the unity  – the design


In the best garden design

The person who thought up the design

Is, was , will be until they die, a gardener

A gardener of dirt imbued with the scent of daphne philadelphus pittosporum

A gardener who has been educated in the finest university lab research vessel of all time:

A little plot of sun lit land putzed over and over and over again

A learning studio of a few rows of daisies and columbines fading and seeding

A rectangular lot with warm rays and moss bit shadows

Tulip tree leaves gathered on the ground in conference 

Tulip flower petals fallen in the sun, unveiling the bare ovary

The best designer is a gardener – 

A plants person trained by time, wetted by rain splattered by mud

Scarred and attacked by berry thorns and yellow jackets stingers and sticky spider webs

They know what plants need, how plants grow, why plants die

These are the forces you have to meet and greet, the forces that you have to work within

To dream up a nice garden design

Field knowledge is foremost, accumulated by you and gardeners like yourself

Working sharing discussing observing experimenting

In a world of experience and stories

Tilting the academic and theoretical knowledge on an edge –

The long charts graphs spreadsheets what the current research says the latest book of facts

Second hand third hand fourth hand knowledge –

The beveled edge cushioned against the mind and the body and the earth heart the earth guts

So stay intimate stay close to whats goin’ down

Be a good gardener playing in the dirt, the fading sun on the left cheek and sweaty forehead

Then you will be a good designer


So to summarize thus far

In garden design, remember that

1)  A person a person a person has to care for the garden over time

2) The garden is a living creation that will grow and change

3) The best designer is a gardener, a maintenance gardener


The worst garden designs – there are so many

Part of the problem is that the design feedback loop is not complete

The circle is not a circle, it is just a climbing wiggly line

The designer does not learn from the mistakes of oneself or that of others

And who points out stuff like that? “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all’

Hard to learn from things gone wrong, when they go wrong not at the beginning

But one year two years three years five years ten years down the line

By then the designer is outa there

And the errors problems methods continue to advertise and repeat and fester and spread

Leaving the clean up improvement rearrangement editing to the gardener

Leaving the yanking butchering root digging ransacking demolition of a garden that never was

To the maintenance gardener


In the worst designs, the designer does not know the site

They do not design based on drainage compaction hard pan runoff rodents disease

They forget to acknowledge the wind and the fog

They dismiss the power of the southern sun and the darkness of the north side

Suffice to say that without an understanding of how life forms fit together, dwell with one another

The design flops

Such a garden betrays the relationship of interconnectedness, forfeits a chance at communion

And, destroys the union of plants and human beings

Nature has her own design principles , they are easily seen – If you take a walkabout

In the mountains rivers foothills forests grasslands scrub vacant lots and open fields

Examine life, and the design patterns will light up


In the worst designs, the designer has no respect for maintenance

Has never done maintenance – pure design

Been to school, but never sowed a seed, made a cutting or scarified a legume

Never fixed a valve on a sprinkler, have a pipe break and have to dig it up

Never repotted a plant or pruned some roots or lowered the canopy

Never had to clean the algae off the walkway or whitewash the greenhouse

Never hauled a half ton boulder, or bucket carried 20 yards of decomposed granite

Never had to clean the gunk out of the fingernails or take a wood splinter out of the hand

Never had sore knees and a pulled back and the shoulders a wreck

Never never never never

Then they design , in the top down style

Of all things, a garden

And you wonder why why why why why why why why why

Who what how who what how who what how

A gardener, a person, takes care of a garden

A gardener must have plant knowledge, site knowledge, and knowledge of oneself

In the garden – the planner and the doer are one, human and design work in harmony

At the end of the day

In the garden, we are sitting around, tools have been put away, hands are washed

We are enjoying the fish tail fronds lit up by pink red orange clouds

While a big white waxing moon smiles in the blue sky

Good designs