Snatching simplicity from the mouth of chaos

Disclaimer: The images in this post are not pictures of my garden. They are gardens of simple inspiration from around the city.

A new season: Time to take stock of the garden. Starting back where it began, twenty-two autumns ago in November, when we took possession of two rectangles of sparse lawn, with a house sandwiched between.

The front lawn had one badly pruned forsythia, planted too close to the walk, one gangly bridalwreath spirea (Spirea vanhouttei) that looked like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, one mock orange (Philadelphus) and a long privet (Ligustrum) hedge – all of which, except for the mock orange, are now gone. All were sitting in lank grass on sand under the dense shade of 60-year-old (now octogenarian) Norway maples (Acer platanoides).

Again, this image and the next are not my garden. And not English cottage gardens. But simple and, likely, sustainable.

I dreamed of an English cottage garden and, in my ignorance, tried to create one. To my credit, it has sort of succeeded. Sort of. It does have that jumbled, seed-where-you-willy-nilly quality.

But, here’s the thing. It’s a lot of work.

Know that expression, you can’t fight Mother Nature? Notice the word “fight”? Going against the inherent tendency of soil, light and moisture is a struggle, a battle against natural forces. For me, it has been a 22-year-long hard slog.

At this stage of my life, it’s time if not to surrender, then at least to declare a truce. I’m going to stop fighting Mother Nature.

Especially after such a dry September as 2009, autumn is where all my mistakes become most glaring. The flops are at their floppiest. Shrubs, stressed by un-ideal growing conditions, have been weakened and open to pests and disease. They’re unhappy. They’re telling me what’s working and what isn’t.

Time to listen. Time, as they say, to accept the things I cannot change, to change the things I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. Time to simplify. This will be my goal over the months to come. Stay tuned.


  1. Helen, I am trying to resist the siren call of planting things unsuitable for my space. This is my third garden and I vowed this time it would be different. This time I would not purchase all those roses, that would get black spot and struggle with not enough sun, I would not plant the lilies that lean almost horizontal looking for a peek of light.
    I have given up the good fight briefly on one or two occassions, or someone has given me a gift that I have to struggle to find a suitable spot for, but like the 12 step program, I take it a day at a time. Good luck with your new plan.
    Love the first shot, this is what I am striving for, green architecture!

  2. The gardens you've featured are wonderful — I love how the path and surrounding greenery leads the eye directly to the door in your top photo. All very nice.

  3. I think the first picture you showed demonstrates the power of structure in our planting.

    I would rather have three types of plants en masse that are healthy and thriving that 30 who are limping along.

    As I am still very much in the planning stages right now with my garden this post has really made me stop and think about my approach. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  4. I loved reading your post and want you to know that I empathize! A truce is often the only compromise; especially against Mother nature. She is a formidable opponent. Simplifying is a wonderful goal…and as Tatyana says…I might have to post it were I always see it. I'll stay tuned! gail

You might also like