Why Do You Garden?

Colors and texture grace the garden at St. Mary of the Hills in Blowing Rock.


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

Every garden has to have an aim attached to it, otherwise it simply doesn’t make sense. A garden is more than just a conglomeration of plants. Rather, it needs a focus if it should have meaning.

A garden should reflect the personality of its owner. I keep on saying this as it’s important. Are you neat and tidy, with everything having its rightful place? Or are you unintentionally rather messy, where objects sort of have a location that often moves? Obviously one person needs more of a regimented garden than the other.

There are many different reasons to install a garden. Some want to encourage pollinators while others want to attract birds. Most gardeners want flowers although the sought-after colors obviously differ. There are gardeners who want only a spring garden as they are gone in the summer. Others want a garden 12 months of the year.

Are you a native plant enthusiast? By all means, concentrate on native plants. Are you in favor of a more varied non-invasive plant garden? Are you more interested in intellectually learning about plants? Do you view your garden as an extension of the natural landscape?

And most of all, why am I asking all these questions? 

I ask these questions because if a garden is to succeed, you must know why you want and need a garden because a garden is more than a collection of pretty plants.

Where I live, a pair of elderly sisters created a famous garden consisting mostly of azaleas and irises, a garden that burst into bloom for six weeks every spring — and then sank back into a sea of green for the rest of the year.

From this garden I learned much about why I wanted to garden. First, I was intellectually interested in plants so I didn’t want to harbor just two plants. Second, I wanted blooms preferably around for most of the year. Third, I wanted my garden to have different themes throughout the year. Fourth, while I wanted masses of blooms, I wasn’t interested in bringing them into the house. 

While my garden is called “Organized Chaos,” I rule my plants with a firm hand. In many respects, plants are like children: they can overstep their bounds but woe to the plant that tries to dominate the whole garden. There is nothing like an overexuberant child or plant that brings out the disciplinarian in me. Plants can overuse my hospitality only to a certain extent.

I find that I enjoy plants that are irregular in form. My roses aren’t uniform in their cane growth. My crinums, especially ‘Super Ellen’, can produce wild, cascading leaves. My winter hazel, Corylopsis sinensis, has only a two-week blooming period, but I enjoy its twisted shape. However, these plants need a contrast, which the evenly shaped camellias supply.

Obviously, I cannot tell you why you garden; I can only tell you why I garden. I garden for color rather than scent because I have a lousy sense of smell. I have a varied collection of plants because I find repetition rather dull.

I don’t garden for wildlife, not because I have anything against wildlife, but because so much of wildlife wants to demolish my plants. By cutting out most of the lawn, leaving only two places for contrast, I don’t have to use all the resources keeping up with a lush, green lawn.

I have different themes in the garden, themes that are apparent to me — and after all, I’m the one person I garden for. I don’t garden for my neighbors, I don’t garden to impress people, I simply garden for myself. 

So, when you are planning a garden or redesigning a garden or dealing with a landscaper, ask yourself this question: Why do I want a garden? The answers might surprise you.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com

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