Until a few years ago, the only plant I ever had under my care was a small cactus. To be sure that it survived, I went so far as to put it in my carryon bag when I moved from New York to Wisconsin. I think that cactus lasted about 5 years until somehow it died. I don’t know why, maybe I loved it too much and overwatered it. Maybe the sunlight that it got from my apartment window was not quite enough to keep it going. Whatever the case, it was the only gardening success story that I had to share.
My career has been in illustration and design. I recently worked on a project that took every free moment I had, a challenge with two small children. When I was done with the project, I was burned out. I couldn’t focus on anything creative. While driving home one day, I passed a house that until recently had been very dull looking. It was a small 1970s tract style house with a flat roof, inexpensive windows, and faded stucco façade. I had stopped noticing it when I passed by. But this time I actually stopped the car to look at it. Seemingly overnight, it had been transformed into an absolutely fantastic house. It looks like it belongs in the countryside of Provence. The front is covered in stone and the windows are framed by age worn periwinkle colored shutters. It has a peaked roof covered with old clay tiles. Mature olive trees now line the front yard, and the garden is a collection of purple and white flowers. It is heaven. It is perfect. It completely inspired me.
I would love to be able to hire the designers who reworked that house, but I know that I cannot afford them. So after staring at my front yard for an excessive amount of time, I decided to take a shot at it myself. I have always been afraid of gardening. To be honest, I really don’t like worms and snails. I have a fear that everything I plant will die and that I will accidentally plant bulbs upside down. But the image I have of the house nearby got me to pick up the shovel and dig.
My approach has been to see the garden as a blank canvas. I decided to start with one main element, hydrangeas, and then figure it out as I go. I had pictures stuck in my head of some amazing hydrangeas that my husband took at a Heronswood Open House. Some are white and look like fireworks. One is a midnight purple and unlike anything I had seen before. Until seeing those pictures, I had not cared much for hydrangeas, but as I viewed his pictures, my attitude instantly changed.
My newfound enthusiasm for gardening comes from mixing colors and shapes together that make each other stand out. I have planted chocolate cosmos next to white roses and framed the pale green Limelight hydrangeas with cornflower blue bachelor buttons and lavender. I love adding little dots of color to jump out and break up the color scheme. I think of it as weaving colors and textures, and I am hooked.
My husband is away. My children have patiently visited nurseries with me and played in the yard while I have dug. They don’t know it yet, but tonight they are having a picnic outdoors that will allow me to keep digging into the evening.
When my husband returns, he will see a very different front yard. I am taking advantage of these days when I can plant with abandon. When he returns, I’ll be under the eye of a horticulturalist, and it will not be so easy to make mistakes. I think the mistakes are sometimes the best part. I was told once in the beginning of my design career not to take any design classes. The reason being that it was best not to learn someone else’s style. I am using this approach with our garden and having a huge amount of fun in the process.