A Home for Your Gnome

Gardening Advice from a Fan of Fun!

The Messy Garden

October 27, 2023 | Design, Maintenance, Plants


Keeping Things Loose

I like my gardens to be a little less orderly and not fussy with the color of mulch.

I’ve never been diagnosed with OCD but I’ve had former students bring up the topic once they entered my visually busy but yet pristine office. Family members have “enjoyed” scooting around coasters and remote controls on the coffee table then count down as I place things back in order. One daughter claims I’m obsessed with cleaning. Not really. I just like clean places and neatness.

I do, however, think that gardens can be too neat. It has been said that garden and horticultural design is one of the most challenging art forms. Why? Because plants are fluid and always evolving. Unlike paintings or sculptures, our gardens change month to month and year to year. When I create a garden design, the plants that are specified beneath the canopy of a growing tree will not be the same plants as that tree matures. This is why trees and hardscape are often called “the bones” of the design. They are somewhat written in stone and may be replaced in a lifetime.

There isn’t much mulch to be found in a nicely naturalized planting.

The same bed in the spring from the opposite direction.

Whoops! I think I’ve strayed a bit here. Getting back to garden neatness. I believe one of the most magical things about our outdoor spaces is the way they change with the seasons. We have a nice patch of mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) in a couple of places in our garden. These ephemeral (non-permanent) plants create a lovely herbaceous layer every spring but come June they fade away and in the same exact spot emerge the summer layer of hosta.

One pet peeve/struggle I have with many folks is how they believe the color of their mulch takes precedent over the fullness of their plantings. I’m sure you’ve seen it. Plants (typically the most cookie-cutter of varieties) are separated by vast oceans of “Johnny’s Black Mulch. Sure, this looks neat to some but I find my eyes rolling back in my head a bit at its ungarden-like appearance.

Nice mulch but little else is of interest.

My point of all this is that as long as you have well-defined bed lines (see my earlier post  https://garrymenendez.com/regaining-the-edge/ ) what is actually in these areas can be a bit loose and random; messy if you’d like. So don’t fret this fall when a few leaves blow into your beds. And don’t panic when your columbine migrates from one place to another. It’s your garden and it shouldn’t require a shop vac to maintain. Have fun and keep digging!

“Controlled chaos” is how I would tag my personal garden style.

Keep it Loose and Happy Planting!