A Well Designed Garden Should Tell A Story

water wise garden

I find a lot of home owners choosing plants for their backyard because they had stopped in at the local nursery and at that time those plants were in bloom and looked good. Or worse yet, the big box store was having a clearance sale and the plants were an impulse buy. For me, a good garden design should not be just about the plants – it should tell a story.  Your garden should have meaning.

I am sure this philosophy developed in me during my years of producing the Portland Home and Garden Show.  Each February we had the best and brightest landscape designers in Portland install gardens at the Expo Center with themes.  I always waited with anticipation for the garden descriptions.  Garden designers are so creative and to read the story behind the design was thrilling.

Gardens with Meaning

And so bloomed my passion for gardens with meaning. Pun intended. I find joy in taking guests through my garden and telling the story.  How the shed used to be an ugly grey metal eyesore until my fence blew down and my son used that wood to make the shed look like an old barn. Or how the nurse log near my patio is actually a piece of the world’s tallest Sitka Spruce. Formerly – It too blew down.  But while it was standing, my father would take out-of-town guests to see it on the way to the beach. A family joke we still laugh about.

Mary Foster Memorial Garden

I recently completed a garden design for a memorial garden at Providence Newberg’s medical center. I had the opportunity to learn a little bit about Dr. Mary Foster, a pediatrician, and what plants she liked and then incorporated plants into the design to reflect her life.  Her love of herbs is celebrated with the inclusion of lavender, sage and chives. The White Flower Carpet Roses are for remembrance of a loved one and for sympathy. While the Double Pink Knock Out Shrub Roses are meant to express the feelings of gratitude and appreciation for Dr. Foster’s dedication to children.

Planted beneath the soil are crocus bulbs.  Bulbs symbolize hope as they are planted in the fall with the anticipation that spring will bring new life.  The crocus are planted in the pattern of the big and little dipper; one of the first constellations that parents share with their children.  While the rest of the garden is dormant, the crocus will bloom white to symbolize the stars.  The North Star, though, will bloom yellow as the guiding light – representing Dr. Foster.

Water-Wise Garden

This facility was the first Gold LEED certified hospital in country and as such the landscape needed to support that ethos as well.  A water-wise garden was a must as well as plant choices that minimized the need for chemicals. By incorporating these principles, this garden ended up having a second story.

So the next time you get a chance to put in a new garden, ask yourself what the narrative is going to be. Can you walk a visitor through your garden like a tour guide, stopping at several points to tell them about your inspiration? Does your garden have meaning or is it just a bunch of sod and uninspiring shrubs?