Pam Penick- a homegrown garden writer asked to come visit my personal garden last week in preparation for next spring garden tours. The request sent me into a bit of a tizzy. I specifically chose not to plant this garden as a “show” garden. I want it to be a garden of ideas and feelings. Feelings are evanescent. And how much of that do we want to tolerate in our garden? Personally, I feel this is the garden’s soul- the comings and goings. And that is how I like to think about blooms in the garden. The jasmine blooms, the wildflower blooms, the bluebonnets, the asters….In my private garden, I plant loads and loads and loads of the same plant so when it does it’s thing it makes a very large impact. I have a neighbor who has written me snail mail thank you letters for the breadth of the aster blooms on the perimeter of my garden that face her house. I want to look forward to the swaths of bloom, watch them emerge, watch them reach their full vulgarity, watch it all fade & then remember it- contrasted with the rest of the year.
But in real life- when blooms are on the way out they are limp and brown. The bluebonnets and wildflowers must go to seed so the brown stays until it explodes. I fear I might have appalled our esteemed garden writer- my meadow does her thing in March and April and is crisping up come mid May- the time of our visit. (Although for the record I must say that everything else but the lower meadow was looking ok.)
And here of course lies a designer’s ultimate challenge- how to manage the comings and goings. Gardens are nature improved non? So the current thinking in my garden is how much can or should I manage les petites morts. Can we just liken it to post coital bliss? It’s got the same messy aftermath. But there are those who hop up and those who loll around in it. Nature will have us loll around in it. A highly designed garden does not loll around in funk.
There is a particular garden master – Fernando Caruncho- who is doing a lot of thinking about this. In his famous garden mas de las voltes, Sr. Caruncho features geometric fields of wheat. The wheat emerges annually- is green, then turns gold, then is harvested and the bales placed in specific locations in the field. Note that he harnesses all this nature in a strict grid and juxtaposes it against evergreen structure of the garden. Thus we can meditate on the agricultural cycles. He expertly manages the death/the harvest of the plants.
His work is genius. I’ve visited his personal garden, and it is well- quite personal. More personal than any of his client projects I have encountered. For a while now, I’ve been wondering what the difference is between a designed garden and a designer’s garden- his had similar elements but had a different feeling.
While doing research for this I discovered that large portions of his famous garden had succumbed to a disease and had to be pulled out.
When I visited, the garden looked like this- the shaped hedges are his signature.
This little red pavilion is more colloquial than anything I’ve seen in his estate gardens. We had lunch there with his little dog and wife Maru. His kids play in the shallow pools.
Now his garden looks like this:
The following is from an Architectural Digest story on the new plantings: “For a year Caruncho tried every possible cure, but there was no hope. In despair, he ripped out everything that had flatlined, from the expanses of clipped boxwood to mounds of mature Escallonia that had lapped the garden kiosk like emerald waves. The scarred earth rebuked him: Caruncho himself had sparked the destruction. Now the magical retreat, a youthful triumph he had always assumed would remain the same, was gone. But its structure—the walled enclosures, the mysterious flights of steps, the U-shaped pergola topped with rebar lattice—had not changed. As he soon realized, it was simply waiting for him to cast off his grief and cultivate another incarnation.
“Gardens, like people, have a cycle: They are born, grow, mature, and die,” Caruncho observes. “For the first time in my life, I understood that. I needed to accept the new conditions but return to the original ideas.” As for the wounded acreage, he adds, “I began to understand it more deeply, as when you love someone who has been in your life for a long time.”
Today the garden’s famous austerity has given way to rational exuberance. For the past several years, Caruncho has filled the beds with thousands of white cosmos, an annual whose self-seeded display—what he calls “a moment of splendor,” with a catch in his voice—makes a joyful contrast to the architectural severity that encloses it. Flowers rise up, chest high, swaying in breezes, spreading like great clouds, and offering months of heart- stopping tenderness before vanishing from sight…..
“It is possible to have a garden that lasts forever but also is ephemeral,” Caruncho explains, noting that the cosmos’ fragile beauty has affected him deeply—professionally as well as emotionally. “Rebirth is the miracle of gardens, and that is something that will be with me for the rest of my life.”
This new information about his personal garden has really affected me. I think about Sr. Caruncho often- his intellect, his skill, his discipline & importantly the way he seems able to get his clients to go along with his advanced ideas.
And yet- he and I have arrived separately at similar personal gardens. Echoing the same themes. Must he too arrange his garden tours to avoid swaths of post orgasmic cosmo aftermath? It seems as if it’s worth it to him- and his family- as it is to mine.
I guess a question that I will continue to ponder will be- if it is this important to us – we who could design anything- shouldn’t we offer our clients the same opportunities for extreme catch in your throat beauty? Don’t they also know that the best orgasms come with a bit of clean up afterwards?