Remembering When

All day today I’ve been thinking about Helen’s post on The Patient Gardener’s Weblog, which asks what’s more important—plants or design? In my response to Helen, I admitted I’m a design person but also noted that I’ve grown in my appreciation for plants, as well as authentic gardens (those in harmony with their surroundings and the gardener’s daily life).

Front, before

Front, before

Front, after

Front, after

Side, before

Side, before

Side, after

Side, after

Back, before

Back, before

Back, after

Back, after

After hours of pondering, here’s the essential truth: I don’t think I realized how much I like plants until I moved to a garden that doesn’t provide enough light to grow everything and anything I want.

I grew up in the country so my earliest memories are bound up with farm life…sitting on my grandfather’s lap while he graded chicken eggs, handing off tobacco leaves to my mother for tying, pulling a bucket of turnips for my grandmother…the list goes on and on.

And honestly, when I finished high school, I couldn’t wait to get away from all that. It wasn’t until Tim and I bought our first home that I gave gardening another thought. Now, nearly 30 years later, we’re on our 4th house and 4th garden.

The photos here show the suburban home we bought in November 2000 and sold in August 2011 just prior to moving to our current neighborhood closer to downtown Greenville. I remember the first months in this house, still unpacking boxes, when I gazed out the windows and imagined what the garden would become. I had very strong ideas about what I wanted, and though I made plenty of mistakes along the way, I never wavered in my vision.

In some respects, it was easy to impose my will on the landscape because it was such a blank slate. After the bulldozers left and the house was built, only foundation plants and lawn were added by the home’s original owners.

The only tricky part, really, was the slightly sloping backyard, and that problem was solved by Dabney Peeples (both friend and landscape designer) who suggested a retaining wall to flatten the area behind the house and separate it from an adjacent area with mature hardwood trees.

I miss this garden and the lovely views afforded by every window. But I don’t miss the hours it took to cut the grass, rake the gravel paths, water the containers and vegetable beds, and keep the flower borders tidy. Neither does Tim. Caring for this garden was a full job every weekend for two people.

What about the new garden? The simplest explanation is to say I’m still sorting it out. The landscape here has been cultivated by a succession of hands-on gardeners since the 1950’s and thus contains a wide range of plant material of various ages, growing conditions are vastly different, and perhaps most important, many of my notions about gardening are in transition.

Nonetheless, I’ll share the progress made in the new garden, such as it is, in my next post.

Back, after, view from house into garden.  My favorite spot to sit on a May morning with a cup of coffee in hand and Rudy and Bella in my lap.

Back, after, view from house into garden. My favorite spot to sit on a May morning with a cup of coffee in hand and Rudy and Bella in my lap.

28 thoughts on “Remembering When

    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Johnnie Ruth–This photo was taken in spring so you don’t notice the cottage garden around the porch that is just coming to life. By the end of summer, the planting was so lush, you could barely get to the front door!

      Reply
  1. Green Man

    “…many of my notions about gardening are in transition.” I agree. Mine, too. In my design career, and at my home gardens, I’m looking at things differently. Interesting how this has sneaked up on me.
    I love your gardens and great post.
    Best,
    Jeff

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Jeff–we need to compare notes! Better yet, you need to come to Greenville so we can do some exploring together and solve the problems of the world! Or at least address a few of the challenges in my new garden, LOL.

      Reply
  2. Sandra Duffy

    I remember visiting your home just before the movers were arriving to move you to your present house in Greenville. I have pictures I took that day and yours made me remember just how lovely it all was. I don’t know how you could have stood moving from there – it was just over the top gorgeous. Can’t wait to see what you have done with your new place.

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Sandra–Sometimes even I don’t know how I was able to move on. I was very excited about starting a new chapter in life, however, and Tim and I are like bugs in a rug at our new place…very happy and content. So much so, it’s hard to get anything accomplished!

      Reply
  3. Helen Johnstone

    I didnt expect my post to prompt so much response but it is nice that it did and I get to have a nose at your old garden. I am particularly intrigued by the after photo of your side garden. Are those paths gravel? What did you edge them with? My garden slopes and I want to remove the lawn but keep some sort of path without going in for lots of hardlandscaping and what you have done looks exactly what I have been looking for. I always wonder whether gravel will slide down a sloping path!!!!

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Helen–the woodland path is a ground wood mulch sold here as “blond playground mulch” that is mostly pine fibers. The dark mulch is ground bark. There was no edging. The photo was taken the weekend we spread the mulch, so everything is especially neat and tidy. It stayed in place very well, though, in fact much better than the gravel in the formal garden.

      Spreading this heavy wood mulch, at least 25-30 yards each spring, was one of our biggest and most difficult jobs. Just 90 miles east, gardeners use light-weight pine needles for mulch rather than ground wood, but we have fewer pines and more hardwood trees in the Upstate. Our mulch is a byproduct of the lumber industry.

      Reply
      1. Helen Johnstone

        how did you keep the distinction between the light and dark bark/mulch – or did the clean lines fade over the year before the next application?

  4. Carolyn Moseley

    Marian,

    Your blogs are always so inspiring and are the highlight of my day. The beautiful way you transformed your garden was like an artist with a blank canvas. I am envious but this late in my life I can just enjoy what others do. Thank you, Carolyn

    Reply
  5. Will

    What a joy to be introduced to Helen Johnstone’s wonderful gardening and writing – especially when that introduction is smack dab in the middle of your own thought-provoking musing, illustrated so well with your old garden’s history. I confess sharing Ms Johnstone’s bias, and I’ve been reinforced in holding that preference after repeated encounters with garden designs so lacking in horticultural diversity and interest (certainly this isn’t your garden!) that I wondered if the Landscape Architecture schools avoid teaching about plants. My nephew having recently completed such an education, I have found my fears largely have been confirmed. I must recognize that superb design does not inherently discard superb plantsmanship; yours, and Dabney Peeples’ work surely give me encouragement, and I admire powerfully the plantsmanship and design (with emphasis on plants) that Jenks Farmer does. But always, that ecstatic pleasure in finding a plant, learning its nature and DNA, its relatives and origin, that pleasure for me will surmount any design consideration. However, as both you and Ms Johnstone point out, fine design – both seeing it and imagining it – provides its own powerful sense of awe. What a wonderful post – and link – today!

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair Post author

      Will–I was struck when I was posting the photos in this post by how much you see the design and how little you see the plants. They were there…lovely tree peonies, magical wood irises, bee-laden nepeta…but it’s easy to see my central focus was a well-made structure.

      Another interesting point–when I visit gardens in Greenville I can almost always tell if (and which) landscape designer was used by the plants growning in the garden. Most, as you noted, have a very limited plant palette.

      Reply
  6. Phyllis Thomason

    Beautiful!!! I always wanted to see your previous home after reading about it but glad you’re my neighbor now.

    Reply
  7. Debra Strange

    Marian, as I have evolved as a gardener, design becomes ever more important in my mind as I plan and plant. It seems to me that I am more intrigued by textures than flowers. A good thing, as I don’t have large areas of full sun for those seductive, bright flowers. I am planting more masses of less troublesome subjects, and liking the effect more. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and sharing your journey!

    Reply
  8. Marian St.Clair Post author

    Debra–we’re on the same page. I’m filling my need for flowers at public gardens and with garden travel, while learning to appreciate the ferns and other woodland plants that grow in my shady landscape.

    Reply
  9. Patterson Webster

    What improvements you made, Marian. I also am a design first person, with plants a very close second. Seeing what you did with your old house makes me eager to see what you will do with the new one. An exciting challenge.

    Reply
  10. Janet, The Queen of Seaford

    Your new garden has a different potential than your former garden. I LOVE your new place. You can’t replicate a river running along the back of your property. I think clearing out the back garden of all the invasives is a GIANT step. I look forward to all your anticipated changes.

    Reply
    1. Marian St.Clair

      Thanks, Janet, for this vote of confidence! I’ve been feeling a bit down this spring because I’ve been too busy to move the ball along. There is so much left to be done! Your note is a real pick-me-up!

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s