I beg you pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.

One evening, a couple of months ago, I went on-line to my favorite purveyor of roses to select and order bare root plants for a client.  (I buy from these folks because they are in a climate that is comparatively chilly to ours ( Zone 5- Ontario, Canada) and, therefore, does not harbor the same diseases that you might find in a warmer climate, like Texas or North Carolina…..). Anyway, while I was at it, I noticed that this rose nursery, world renowned for its selection of historic and heirloom roses, was discontinuing several classic, important varieties that I’ve always longed for. I’m no rose aficionado and so what I mean when I say ‘important’ is heirloom, late 18th and early 19th century roses. Their importance, to me, resides in their longevity and my thinking that these old cultivars ought to be preserved . The threat of discontinuation came as a shock and I acted upon it, immediately. A volley of urgent emails between Andrew and I ensued, (me in the studio at my laptop, he, in the house watching BBC news on TV, and shopping for roses on his smart phone).  The ‘Final Offer’ roses were keenly researched. Together, and separately, we came up with a list and ordered them, along with our client’s roses.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. It was around Oct. 23rd or so and I’d received confirmation of my rose order. I was exiting the house, walking across the lawn, headed to my studio, Andrew had just returned from somewhere and was approaching me, when it suddenly struck me. Oh dear God! I threw my arms around him, gave him a kiss, and said “Happy 10th Anniversary”! He responded in-kind, but equally shocked, and we both nearly fell down laughing. “When was it?”, he asked. “I don’t know, maybe last week,” I said. Of course, most married couples don’t experience the same ambiguity about their anniversary date but, in our case ,it’s justified. We were married on Oct. 18th, 2001 but we (and I’m using the ‘royal ‘we’ here) forgot to bring the marriage certificate to the church, and so, had to return the next day to have it signed, which, technically, bumps our actual marriage to the 19th of October.

Later that evening, after the belated champagne, I returned, dizzily, to my studio and Andrew to watching BBC news on TV, and checking his email on his smart phone) another volley of emails between Andrew and I ensued. This time, it went like this. “We’ve order six heirloom roses. We get three each. Two each for our birthdays and one each for our anniversary. Here’s the list of what we ordered, You go first. Select your anniversary rose, then I’ll select mine, then you your first birthday rose, then me, …….” Amazingly, our personal selections mirrored our favorite personal choices. More amazing is that I’m writing about it, because, after all, Andrew and I, through thorns and dis-ease, lush, floral display or the disfiguring and disheartening effect of deer predation, we share the same rose garden, and, I beg your pardon, I never expected or even dreamed that I would ever have such a garden to share with such an impeccable man.

How I think about designing gardens…

Recently installed, this garden will take a year or two to fill out and come into its own.

Every request to I get to design a garden fills me with excited anticipation.  I rejoice at an opportunity to create a destination that did not previously exist. In this sense, it is similar to creating rooms. Interior, exterior…it’s the same to me. I’ve only recently come to discover that it’s the same as painting and this realization has clarified my thoughts about my own particular creativity and the ephemeral and difficult to describe thing that I aspire to. It’s an opportunity to create a kind of beauty that evokes an emotional response. I have difficulty defining this. Impressive, grand gardens are not  foreign to me. I like them, too.  But, it’s the intimate, contemplative, richly varied yet harmonious, inspired, cohesive and yes, exuberant , and, dare I say, ‘traditional’ garden that I want to see. In art history terms (painting, that is), the gardens I try to create would evoke names like Chardin, Vermeer, Monet,  a gentle sort of moody, static, elegant repose; floriferous and uplifting.
I have a landscape designer friend who is a great advocate for conceptual, avante garde gardens. She attends all the important English and French shows and keeps up on internationally known, cutting-edge landscape architects and garden designers who are creating ‘salt’ gardens, or vertical urban orchards, or gardens made of lights, teepees, metal cutouts woven into chain link fences. She thrusts herself, with the unceasing energy of a hummingbird, Slam! Bang! into the middle of it and I admire her for it. I LOVE her blog and feel honored to be able to keep up with the garden design trends through it.  I am not, however, a conceptual artist. I get it but unless the elements of natural beauty are there to enhance and enliven the idea, I quickly lose interest. I don’t want to create clever, self-conscious, intellectually driven spaces.

I want the magic of Bach or Vermeer or Yeats. No rare plants for the sake of it, no clever ‘tongue-in-cheek’ juxtapositions, few poetic combinations that will only be memorable through a macro lens, no showmanship or valedictorianizing. In the spaces where I want to tread or sit or ponder, I yearn for (and aim for) cohesion, vivacity, color, abundance, respite, …..that’s what I like.

Andrew and I recently designed and installed the new garden pictured above for a client, whose remark upon seeing it was “this is a magical place”., and that’s exactly what we were aiming for.