Designing for Others and Ourselves
August 14, 2010
Allan in Invincibelle Spirit, Musings on Gardening, flowering shrubs, garden design, messy perennials, perennials

During the course of this gardening season, I dealt with clients whose needs were remarkably varied. Each one’s requirements compelled me to create original garden compositions that were custom tailored to a client's wish list. There was to be no reusable plan and no formula design because every client I interviewed had unique or specific requests. Most had well established color preferences, some had peculiar aversions. One client instructed me not to plant perennials with small flower heads or miniature petals. An objective such as this one might seem easy to fulfill. However, it turned out to be a challenge. During the busy and hectic season, I worked with plants that already had a successful track record for color, texture, height and floriferousness. That helped to streamline the work and made me more efficient. There was no time to pay attention to the size of the flower head or the scale of the petals. As expected, after the garden was completed, the client was displeased with some of the plants in my repertoire and asked that they be replaced. So much for trying to be efficient!

When the gardens started to bloom, it was fascinating to discover how many clients rejected the same plants. This past year, I have had to remove Nepeta Walkers Low and Salvia nemerosa Plumosa from all of the beds in which they were planted. Most clients decided that Nepeta grows to an overflowing size and makes the garden appear messy and when the Salvia flops down to grow horizontally, it appears far messier than it does in the trade photos. However, the most devastating criticism came recently when some clients saw the Hydrangea Invincibelle Spirit in bloom for the first time. I had planted this new pink variety in four gardens because I wanted to give my clients something different; something original that would help make their gardens look unique. Sadly, three clients phoned to request that I remove and replace it. They complained that it appeared either  floppy, messy, skimpy, scrawny, or shabby. It is unfortunate that a plant with so much touted potential should bring so much disappointment. This is not the first time that a new plant has been more attractive in print that in the garden. I become so enthusiastic when I read about new varieties that I forget that one must be wary of the marketing hype disseminated by growers and distributors.

Given our deep involvement in the needs of all of the clients, sometime’s it becomes hard for us to figure out what kind of gardens we want for ourselves. In her blog Designers on Design, dated July 13, 2010, Susan Lundrigen posted an interesting perspective on this subject. Her post got me thinking how I managed to maneuver through this obstacle. A creative trick that helped me to design a personal garden was to treat it as if it weren't mine. I designed it so that it pleased my wife and children. That gave it a theme, a focus and direction. However, after it was completed and started to bloom, I began tweaking it because the act of making it pleasing to others sensitized me to my own garden needs. Now, whenever time permits, I make incremental changes to my flower beds in order to convert them into the garden that I didn't know I wanted.

This has been a busy planting season, one in which I have worked 12 hour days since the first week of May. Now is the time to take a well deserved rest before bulb-planting and harvesting of perennials begin. Therefore, I will be away from my computer and this blog, until the week of September 5.

 A bientot!

Article originally appeared on Garden Design, Montreal, Perennial Flower Gardens, Gardening Tips, Gardening Advice, Gardening Book Reviews (
See website for complete article licensing information.