More and Less

More And Less lists are replacing New Year’s resolutions and this makes sense to me. Compiling a list of what you’d like to do/see/manifest more of as well as what you’d like less of in your life seems, well, just easier–less intimidating, more approachable and (getting down to brass tacks) more achievable.

I’ve never been a New Year’s Resolutions-type of person but in the first few days of this new year, I thought I’d try my hand at a More/Less list and, I have to say, it was fun. And then I thought, what would a More/Less list as a gardener look like for me?

MORE

MORE CHAIRS TO STARE:

My woodland garden is actually way more woodland than garden and that’s just fine with me. But, oddly, in the place where I actually have a more standard issue garden, I’ve realized that I’m still compelled to set up the kind of seating arrangement you might find in a fenced-in, suburban back yard. You know, the typical four-chairs-in-a-large-circle set up, usually found plonked around a low table in the middle of a cement patio. This kind of seating is very popular for good reason. You can talk, relax, sip cocktails and pass the Cheetos way easier when you’re all facing each other.

But this year I’m going to take inspiration from one of my favourite local gardens, Keppel Croft Gardens in Big Bay, Ontario. As Keppel Croft is a very large garden (really several gardens contrasting and complementing each other) there are lots of opportunities to stop and sit awhile. But, intriguingly, most of the seating isn’t for a group. In fact, many of the seating situations are only meant to accommodate a single person or two people who love to squish in together. In other places, like the grassy terrace shown below, the seating seems to be sending out a coded message to only people with a very close connection: a romantic couple, best friends, co-conspirators, all three.

And, whatever the seating arrangements at Keppel Croft, almost all the seats throughout the garden look out.

That’s what’s needed in my garden. I’ll keep my circle of chairs around the firepit. But I’m going to add some seating, purposefully positioned in out-of-the-way corners, specifically for simply, quietly, staring out at the wonder that is a garden and steep in the green peacefulness of it all–with someone else or not. Anti-social? Perhaps a little. But in a good, quite necessary way these days, I think.

Blue chairs in a garden

MORE ROLES FOR THE SKY TO PLAY:

Having a woodland garden, by definition, means you’ve got a lot of trees and very tall shrubs. This also makes for a lot of shade and not a lot of clear, uninterrupted sky. But there are a few spots where the wilderness thins out enough to allow a small pool of sunlight to spotlight smaller, shorter plants in all there diminutive glory. This year, I’d like to start playing up these areas a bit more. As seen in the photo of a private Ontario garden shown below, a garden sculpture placed in a sunny clearing can be like the explanation point in a story or the proverbial cherry on the sundae.

Bird sculpture in sunlight

If you have more sun than shade, there’s always the possibility of planting something in just the right spot for watching a light-and-shadow dance with the rising or setting sun. The photos immediately below were shot in the garden we used to have in Southern Ontario. With some planning and a whole lot of luck, we enjoyed moments of mesmerizing beauty such as:

• a Japanese maple lit up every late afternoon by the summer sun

• a smoketree glowing in the early morning sun each spring

• pots on the patio, tall enough for leaves and flowers of plants such as coleus to be at eye level, burnished by autumn’s warm, lingering sunsets.

I’ve taken that plant-at-eye-level trick a step further at our cottage. Every spring I plant pansies in a couple of long, narrow plant containers nailed to the top railing of our big wooden deck overlooking forest and lake. At that height, above our heads when seated to enjoy a morning coffee or an afternoon cocktail, these usually humble blooms brilliantly spangle the middle distance like a giddy swarm of hallucinogenic butterflies.

The photo below was taken last summer at a dear friend’s garden in Gananoque, Ontario–an extraordinarily charming town which hosts a must-see garden tour every year. The sun was starting to set and we settled into chairs on a terraced lawn bordered by a curving flower bed. A lushly planted vegetable garden lay beyond, now slipping into deep shade. Suddenly, the brilliant pink Lavatera (Lavatera trimestris) right in front of us lit up as if someone had flipped a switch.

Also known as Mallow or Annual Tree Mallow, this spectacular plant is a real attention grabber at any time of the day. It’s also something to be cherished for its spectacular but brief display. Trimestris translates as “three months” which gives you an idea of how quickly this plant grows tall, blooms and then gives up the ghost.

As we sat there, transfixed by this spontaneous light show, we started to ponder how to take greater advantage of this gorgeous situation. The setting summer sun conveniently threw a spotlight on the raised flower bed that rimmed our seating area and the beds and trees in the background simultaneously transmogrified into a dark, velvety curtain. It seemed that there was a show-stopping performance happening before our very eyes. How will my friend work with this bit of amazing luck? Will she create a cast of eye-catching characters or let her Mallow glory in a solo role? We’ll have to wait until spring and I’ll report back. But there’s a chance you’ll be able to see for yourself. I’ve heard a rumour that her garden may have been chosen as a feature on Gananoque’s 2023 garden tour. If that’s the case, do what you can to see for yourself. I’ll post details later in the spring.

Bloom in sunlight

MORE ROOM FOR ANNUAL ALIEN-NESS:

Whenever I visit a garden centre, I make a beeline for the perennials. Plants that reliably come back year after year are sensible, economic choices. Ho hum.

This year, I’m going to push myself to investigate more annual options. The weirder, the better. There are so many delightfully strange plants these days, thanks to the horticultural industry’s indefatigable mission to inspire us to part with our money. I have to admit, every spring, I vow to garden more sustainably. But my head can still be turned by the sight of a plant that looks like it was freshly plucked from the bottom of the sea or from a distant planet.

I especially love odd-looking succulents. They’re so easy to grow and, when planted in rocks or an old tree stump, they can make a pretty good facsimile of the ocean floor, like the planting shown below.

A sea-bed themed rock garden detail

Various Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) are great for making an “underwater” garden, too. In fact, I think Coleus Under the Sea (TM) Sea Weed (close up, below) really does a wonderful job at looking like something it really isn’t.

I took the two photos of rock garden plantings, below, while on garden tours outside of Toronto. I love how the garden owners nudged the whole seabed theme along with the addition of sea shells and even bright blue pebbles.

LESS

LESS KEEPING IT ALL OUTSIDE:

I spend time planting and nurturing plants the entire growing season and yet I hardly ever think to take a snip or two for an indoor arrangement. The two small bouquets in the photo below were from our old suburban garden many springs ago. Now we’re more likely to be surrounded by wild trilliums and trout lilies carpeting the surrounding forest floor. I would never cut a single stem. But my non-native, potted plants, are fair game, including my beloved White Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba‘).

Floral arrangement in vases

LESS WORRYING ABOUT WHERE PLANTS ‘OUGHT’ TO BE:

I love how this variegated sedum (Stonecrop), shown below, has ignored its assigned role as ground cover and gaily invaded the personal space of an evergreen shrub. Clearly the result is to the greater good of both plants. What a wonderful mash-up of colour and texture.

I hereby swear to give all my plants free rein. If they wind up somewhere they weren’t intended to be, that’s fine. The garden will probably be all the better for it.

Groundcover plant and evergreen shrub

LESS TYRANNY OF THE TASTEFUL COLOUR COMBO:

On a further note about plants staying put or not: I vow not only to let plants go wherever they want, I’m not going to have a problem with any clashes in colours as a result.

Back in the day I would’ve cringed at the thought of purposefully planting an eye-watering kaleidoscope of coloured blooms. After all, my idea of the ideal garden was the uber-tasteful all white garden at Sissinghurst. But now, as I’ve mellowed over the years (or, perhaps more accurately, stopped being such a garden snob), I see the benefits of a discordant combo like the bright purple Clematis wandering through a patch of burgundy and copper Heuchera, shown below.

It’s quite happiness-inducing, actually–tossing ‘good taste’ to the wind and letting garden plants weave a bright tapestry of pure joy.

Colourful groundcover

Do you have a More/Less list for your garden? I’d love to hear your inspirations. What would you like to add or subtract to your garden or gardening efforts this year?

3 thoughts on “More and Less

  1. You’ve inspired me to type More: going with the flow, even though my niece says “Only dead fish go with the flow”. Less: stressing about having it sorted for visitors and letting them see the process instead. It’s not an oil painting, it’s a living growing place, a faffed about and faffed about some more garden to faff about in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’ve inspired me! Yes, going with the flow is a wonderful idea and sometimes not all that easy to do. Relaxing into a situation rather than automatically trying to “fix” it is something I often struggle with but the garden is a great place to start. And yes to your Less, too! Here’s to the art of puttering. You are so right – gardening is a life long process.

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