The ‘All-In’ Chaos Garden; Secrets Revealed!

“I want my garden to look like yours”

Memorial Garden-July 2011

A work in progress, the 2-year old Memorial Garden at Stonewell.

This will come off as supremely arrogant, but, in fact, we get this comment alot. Of course, it’s flattering and is obviously offered as a high compliment, but, my gut, unarticulated reaction is “Really? You want an unstructured chaotic jumble of plants that can’t decide if they’re a perennial garden or a wildflower meadow? Really?” Don’t you see the weeds? Don’t you notice that there’s too much of one thing in bloom, or not enough foliage color variety, or that the balance of height and growth habit is a bit ‘off’?

Permesso, but, I’ll let you in on a little secret; our own personal gardens ( not ones we create for clients) are so ridiculously labor intensive and weirdly curated that any normal person, learning of our peculiar approach and activities, would conclude that we’re crazy and would back-off. I should add something of a disclaimer here, along the lines of “do as we say, not as we do”. The first shocker is that we mulch our gardens with horse manure, not generally considerd a weed suppressor. Our soil is almost pure sand and soil fertility is what we’re after. Maybe, someday, when the soil grows up, we can mulch the beds with bark mulch, as normal people do and as we do for our clients. Until then, we continue to heap on about 60 tons of partially composted horse manure a year. Of course, weed seeds ecstasize over this quirk of ours and so we spend crazy, inordinate amounts of time weeding. To add to this ‘all-in’ approach to our gardens, I sprinkle the all important ‘chaos’ ingredient, Michelle’s ‘Special Blend Fairy Dust’ throughout the gardens on any bit of open ground (by which I mean bare manure) that I can find. This previously undisclosed special blend combines annual and perennial seeds that I harvest from the plants we grow, so every year the amount of seed increases and I’m compelled to go further afield to spread the fairy dust that results in the chaos that I fundamentally object to. ( I really don’t know what this pathology would be diagnosed as; I welcome suggestions). The ‘Special Blend Fairy Dust’ is mostly a mix of poppy seeds with some other, self-sowing annuals, and a perennial or two, thrown in for good measure; (papaver somniferum, p. rhoeas, Iceland poppies, lychnis coronaria, and, occassionaly, nicotiana sylvestris), and it’s very difficult to weed or mulch around these ‘fairy dust plants’. (add another 60 hr. work-week to the ‘To-Do’ list for this light-hearted, whimsical, poetic flourish). Some seeds take, some don’t, some sow themselves, often in places where we don’t want them so there’s a lot of editing that needs to go on once the seedlings emerge (add about 18 hours for this). Andrew usually groans when he catches me doing my fairy dust thing ( and rightfully so, I now realize) but he’s the first to screech when I pull a pink poppy so it doesn’t clash with an orange rose.

Yes, in the end, in our own personal gardens, we manage to create poetic, impressionistic, cottage gardens that seem to possess romance, casualness, and present a wild, carefree, abundant, free-flowering mood, but these are extremely high maintenance gardens; clearly not for the faint-hearted.