Dare to Be Wild

I love the spring for so many reasons.  For the magic of the garden exploding in color and form, for the birds nesting and tending to their young, and especially for the warmth of the sun after a long, cold winter.

But there are a few things about spring that bother me besides spring cleaning and tax season. I trust you won’t be offended when I share my opinions on the wildness of things. If you are one who trims shrubs into balls or lollipops or perfect Versailles-like hedges – I applaud you for your attempts to control the landscape. For me, perhaps because I have limited time to work in my own garden in the spring or because I’m moved by the naturalistic plantings of Piet Oudolf and others, I feel the need to let the wildness happen.

I love seeing the wrangled branches of my forsythia reach out to greet me as I drive up my driveway.  I much prefer it this way as opposed to some unnatural shape that looks out of place.

Wild Forsythia

I adore the Columbine which have happily seeded themselves around and are showing up in new forms and colors each year.


I congratulate one of the foxgloves, a treasured gift from my parents’ garden, for planting itself alongside my water feature.

A single foxglove self-planted

Foxgloves galore

Please don’t think I have relinquished all control of my garden. I still attempt to keep the weeds at bay, without as much success as I would like. I move plants that are being crowded out by others and water new plants as they settle in to a new spot in the garden. I assist Mother Nature as best I can. We collaborate.

I think my fellow Hardy Plant Society member, Syd Carpenter, said it best when quoted in a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society magazine from the winter of 2017. “As a gardener you are a collaborator, an enabler with nature, the sun, the earth. The notion of control is laughable. Gardening is a question of cooperation, acceptance, and submission – you bow to the process. Sometimes you are disappointed; sometimes you are rewarded. And you hope that over time the rewards outnumber the disappointments.”

So the next time you are putting your spring to-do list together, think about leaving off some tasks like hedge trimming or the weeding out of seedlings. Let them be and instead focus on cleaning those windows so you can enjoy the view that the natural and wild landscape offers! And when you have finished cleaning your windows, please come to my house to help me out with mine!


Divide and Conquer

Most of the garden centers in my area are touting fall as the season for planting. I agree that autumn is a great time for assessing gaps in your garden design and filling in those blanks spaces not only with new plants, but also with divisions from existing ones. 

Recently, a client wrote a testimonial expressing her gratitude that I used the plants that were already on site, rather than only purchasing new.  My response was, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’  Dividing plants is not only healthy for your wallet, it’s also healthy for your plants and it keeps them looking their best. 

Divided daylilies – three became seven!

Divided Echinacea helps fill in blank spaces

Hostas, for example, are notorious for growing into a large clump with a bare spot in the middle – a plant donut if you will.  By dividing them, you can eliminate this problem, while giving yourself more plant material to relocate in your own garden. Divisions also make great gifts. Who wouldn’t want a free plant in good condition?  I have cherished peonies in my garden that originated from my grandparents’ farm in Michigan. I can’t think of a better way of sharing plants than to provide divisions to others. You are giving a gift that keeps on giving!

Divided Hostas grace my new water feature

Peony divisions from my grandparents’ garden

As a designer I feel strongly that repetition in landscape is key to maintain a natural and cohesive look. If you only plant one of every plant, your garden can appear chaotic instead of harmonious. I often repeat plant types and colors to carry the eye from one part of the garden to another and to provide balance in the overall design. One of my clients said she loved the feature of repetition in my garden, commenting that it was like continually running into old friends.

Astilbe chinensis has been moved around my garden to create repetition of color

The more I get to know my garden, the more I learn from the plants.  I’ve been able to observe which plants like which conditions and which ones don’t. If my design isn’t being fulfilled by plants that I want to grow in a space, I look at nearby plants.  If they are doing well, I’ll divide them and use them to fill in the voids. I recently moved some Heuchera from the front of my house to the woodland area where I had some empty spaces.  I’m confident these plants will prefer the part shade conditions under some deciduous trees; they are already looking happier and less crispy! In contrast, I have areas where certain plants are taking over.  I’ll divide them to keep them in bounds and relocate the clump I removed.

Plants that respond well to division include Peonies, Hostas, Daylilies, Echinacea, Rudbeckia and more. Simply dig out the plant and pull it apart or cut it with a spade, ensuring there are leaves and roots intact in each division. Then replant the divisions where you want them.  It’s as easy as that.  So pick up your shovel, go out into your landscape and prepare to divide and conquer!


A Garden Defined

During a recent vacation to Banff, Canada to do some hiking, I found myself awe-inspired by the views of lakes, mountains, waterfalls, glaciers and open meadows. The experience made me stop and think about gardens in a new way. I wondered whether Mother Nature’s masterpieces would be considered ‘gardens’ by modern definition.

According to, a garden is defined as

1.  a plot of ground, usually near a house, where flowers, shrubs, vegetables or herbs are cultivated.

2.  a piece of ground or other space, commonly with ornamental plants, trees, etc., used as a park or other public recreation area:  a public garden. 

3.  a fertile and delightful spot or region.

 I would put the Banff landscape in the category of ‘delightful spots’ for sure. In fact, I think Mother Nature did a great job with the native landscape in Canada. She evoked a positive response in me and enabled me to connect to each space I visited in a unique way. As I captured scene after scene with my camera, I realized that certain patterns were emerging. Natural patterns that were further explored in W. Gary Smith’s book ‘From Art to Landscape’. Gary believes we find patterns all around us in the native landscape that provide repetition of color, texture or form and help to unify a space. These different patterns include mosaics, naturalistic drifts and serpentines, among others. As I reviewed the images I captured on my camera, I realized my photos represented nearly all of these concepts and natural designs.

A drift near Lake Louise
A mosaic of wildflowers in Sunshine Meadows
A serpentine river at Bow Glacier

Piet Oudolf, an influential Dutch garden designer, nurseryman and author has become popular world-wide due to his naturalistic approach to gardening. In his book ‘Designing with Plants’, Piet said, “My biggest inspiration is nature. I do not want to copy it but to recreate the emotion. What I try to do is build an image of nature.” 

Piet observed that beauty can be seen in nature on every single day of the year. If Mother Nature can accomplish this, we can too. I believe we simply have to focus on naturally occurring patterns and the cycles of life. Piet points out that birth equals spring, life equals summer, and death equals fall/winter. By using these guidelines, we can effectively combine color, texture and form in a way that looks natural, inviting and interesting throughout the year.

Hydrangea in spring (birth)
Hydrangea in summer (life)
Hydrangea in winter (death)

The next time you visit a nursery, think about how the plant will look during each season and plan your gardens around these seasons of interest. The next time you travel, look at the naturally occurring patterns in Mother Nature’s ‘gardens’ and consider replicating their impression. By incorporating form and pattern, you can bring nature into your own landscape and build a closer relationship with wild spaces. And who doesn’t want that?