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Reflecting in Our Garden

“I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it” Jack Dawson, Titanic. I love movies and I love this quote! Every morning I wake up to a Ginkgo tree deliberately planted outside our bedroom window simply because it brings me happiness. When my wife and I built our home together, we were cautioned as to the stress construction may bring. Nothing could be further from the truth for the two of us. Excited at the opportunity and open to the adventure, my wife and I see most everything the same. A true gift, we have thrown so much of ourselves into our home and its surroundings over the years, it often puzzles me how many are so cursory when it comes to landscaping their homes.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone should have the appreciation for plant material that I do, far from it. That would be like me understanding every nuance that every other profession has. There simply is a learning curve that, in many professions, would take years to understand let alone appreciate. I’m just amazed at how capricious some are about “buying plants to fill a void.”

While it may all start with a master plan, the research, subtle distinctions in cultivars, and excitement of a particular plants attributes continues to hold my attention. In a world where you simply can’t know it all, as new plants are being discovered every day, why would anyone just settle? Dumping into a landscape a cute, little, yellow mop cypress, the size of a pillow, only to discover that the dwarf varieties grow larger than most cars perplexes me to this day. Every selection in our garden brings me joy and in many instances tells a story, connecting me to someone in my industry.
Building our home, my wife and I had certain criteria we openly shared with our architect. Important to my wife was to not see our garage doors from the street and equally important to me was to open my eyes, every morning from our bedroom, and see the unique foliage of a Ginkgo tree, my personal favorite! The fact that our Ginkgo tree was a selection from one of the country’s premier growers, at the time, and that it was slated to be on the property of Anheuser-Busch tells only one story in our book. A novel that would have plant enthusiasts brimming with anticipation to turn the page. Sauntering around our garden past the likes of herbaceous perennials, woody deciduous ornamentals, unique conifers and a handful of evergreen counterparts, our garden has purpose, personal style and deliberate decision making predicated on science and bliss.

Like any garden, ours is a work in progress and not without its fair share of adjustments. Our home, originally screened from the street by a handful of ornamental European hornbeam, Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’, I soon learned that ‘Fastigiata’ isn’t so fastigiate in the long run. A lesson I had learned early on and clearly forgot or overlooked. Punctuate that with a visit to Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton Township, New Jersey and you can begin to understand the need to “rip out” our perfectly healthy hornbeams for the architecture and drama that an American sweetgum cultivar, Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’ can provide. Much to the amazement of my neighbors and even my wife, my decision to reintroduce a new screen, when one was perfectly fine, fostered frustration and bewilderment to many who passed by. However, now that the “pencil” trees have begun to fill in, the doubters now understand the vision. Perhaps if I had selected a hornbeam cultivar like ‘Frans Fontaine’ or followed pleaching techniques of French and Italian landscapers of the 17th and 18th centuries, I could have saved myself time and effort? Alas, I did not!

The depth of our plant material, and the stories associated with them, simply cannot be captured in a single article. Endless garden outings across our country and Europe, numerous conversations with some of the world’s most brilliant horticultural minds, veracious readings on my part to appreciate and understand the subtle differences in plant cultivars have all helped frame our garden beds, creating a comfortable outdoor living space for our family. A space that continues to fill in and flourish rather than implode because price dictated the decision making. My wish is to see more people use plant material to their fullest potential, understanding their usefulness, not basing decisions merely on dollars and cents. “Plants are not static pieces of furniture,” (Eileen Ferrer) meant to be dumped into a corner to fill a void. Rather they are living, breathing things that when nurtured will not only fill space, they will exceed expectations and inspire you and the next generation.