Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wednesday Vignette: Celebrating Realism

If I were a better blogger, I would be sharing a full write-up of the 2017 Northwest Flower and Garden Show (NWFGS), but I have to admit I've been rather lazy for the past few days. I haven't been entirely unproductive, though. In between showers, I've been out in the garden, adding new plants and relocating others. More on that later.

Today for Wednesday Vignette, hosted by Anna at Flutter&Hum, I'm sharing a photo from the NWFGS display gardens that struck me for its realism, which isn't generally a strong point for show gardens. I neglected to take a photo of the sign bearing the name of the garden and its designers, but I'm fairly certain this is "Honey! We Shrunk the Farm: Urban Farming in Style" by Farmer Frog.

Let's talk about the plants, first. Though the blueberries and the (half-planted) daylily would prefer more sun than the hostas and fern, the plant palette in this garden could actually work together for more than a single season (unlike most of the gardens at the show). What's more, they're planted realistically. It's not a carpet of bulbs and tiny heathers or other plants crammed together to make a full, instant effect. No "groundcover" fatsias here, thank goodness (just wait for it, it seemed to be a common practice this year). Yes, you can tell it's a newly-planted, immature garden. You can also imagine it growing and developing as a real garden. I love that. Can we have more display gardens that show actual garden possibilities instead of floral arrangements on a grand scale? Please? Not content to simply choose a plant palette that could feasibly work in a real garden, and plant it to appear as such, the designer of this garden even threw in an extra bit of realism. Had you noticed it yet? The leaf litter in the rocks is what really caught my eye in this display garden. Oh my goodness! A display garden with intentional litter! Can you even imagine? I love that the designer chose to incorporate those few handfuls of dead leaves, portraying the importance of allowing nutrients to be recycled in your garden, providing homes for overwintering insects (bad ones, yes, but the good ones need places to sleep, too, and will help manage the pests), and simply the realities of maintaining a garden. It doesn't have to be perfect. Many a lazy gardener (like me) leaves litter in the garden to decompose naturally. It's better for the garden and everything in it, unless there's diseased material that you should remove, to simply let nature do its thing. I'm not saying you should never clean up, or simply leave everything that dies in place. That's what compost piles are for. But a little leaf litter on the ground isn't an eyesore. Why not leave it? You might brush it out of the rocks and into the bed next to it, but why do more?


This wasn't the most beautifully-designed garden, in my opinion, and that's ok. I don't mean to imply it was ugly. Far from it. And I loved it for being perhaps the most realistic portrayal of a garden I've ever seen in one of these displays.

Perhaps next week I'll get to the full-scale NWFGS post, unless I think of something I really want to share from my own garden, but right now I'm more intent on maintaining my garden, planting and fixing it up after our awful winter, than I am on blogging about it.

13 comments:

  1. I feel exactly the same; you only put it to words in a way I couldn't. The gardens in the show are beautiful but totally unrealistic and get varying degrees of eye rolling from me. That is why I liked this little garden too, even though I admit to not noticing the dead leafs till you pointed them out. From the chicken coup and bee hive to the vertical pipe structure for growing lettuce, this was a realistic display of urban gardening. The only other realistic display was by the arboretum foundation; they do a really good job every year.

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    1. I wish I'd taken a closer look at this garden, but by the time I got around to it, it was a bit crowded and I didn't want to be packed into the greenhouse like a sardine. Yes, most of the display gardens elicit a lot of eye-rolling from me, too. The Arboretum Foundation garden was wonderful. So much mossy goodness! I also enjoyed the simplicity of the Mid Mod Mad garden, with it's sedge groundcover. It was a bit too modern for me, and a bit too stiff, but it was also something that could work in real life.

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  2. It's a sad commentary but I'm thrilled when I just see plants grouped together that look like something other than an after-thought. Our "local" (Orange County) show in late April/early May has devolved into furniture displays (often not even featuring outdoor furniture!) with some potted plants sufficing to evoke "nature."

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    1. I'm very picky, I know. While I'd like to see more realistic portrayals of gardens, I do appreciate being able to gather inspiration for combinations of color and texture from the display gardens, even if the specific plants wouldn't work together.

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  3. I had the same reaction you did to this garden, Evan. I thought it was for the most part nicely done, and really was the only display garden - to my mind - that really attempted to create an edible garden, per the show's concept of Taste of Spring. I mean, it seems anyone can throw some Salvia officinalis in with the Fatsias, and get away with it as "adhering to the concept", but these people gave it their sincere effort. I appreciated that.

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    1. That's a good point, Anna. I agree that this garden probably had the strongest take on the "Taste of Spring" concept. Those Fatsias! Ha! That's going to be a running joke for me.

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  4. I share your feelings about the realism of this garden and loved it but also understand that in the middle of winter when the show takes place, most of our gardens have a lot of realism already. Okay, my garden is a leaf-covered pit with winter damaged plants all over the place (Keepin' it real) and, as Billy Joel said, "It's just a fantasy, it's not the real thing but sometimes a fantasy is all you need." https://youtu.be/hhJg1finpyU While I used to be a bit put off by the artificiality of the show gardens, I now enjoy them for the floral-arrangement fantasies that they are, a bit of drama. And really, what garden has cushions, blankets, and a beautiful table setting or a fully set out picnic in February?

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    1. I'm fine with a bit of fantasy. In fact, it's necessary in these display gardens, just as it is in a real garden. I don't have trouble with imagining some of those gardens in summer, with cushions, blankets, etc. I loved the Mid Mod Mad garden with the sedge groundcover. But most of the gardens just manipulate plant material too unrealistically for me to enjoy. I can't help but roll my eyes at all the fatsia used as groundcover in front of tiny bulbs and heathers, for example, but I also understand that people can take that visual and adapt it to their gardens with plants that would work.

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  5. The crowds walking through this garden, nose to butt, whenever I got near put me off any desire to look closer. Thanks for sharing your picture as well as your insights into what you liked about it.

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    1. Same here. I could only look at it from outside and snap this photo.

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    1. Little cuttings or tiny young plants of Fatsia planted in swaths along the edge of multiple display gardens. It's as ridiculous as it sounds.

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  7. I haven't had the opportunity to see many display gardens but I just think of them as being instant gardens with all the plants grown to perfection at the same time. Beautiful to look at, impossible to have in the real word but maybe a gardener will pick up the odd idea and incorporate it into his own. I know many of the ones at Chelsea make my heart leap and that is good enough for me. You do have a point but I wonder how many visitors felt the same way as yourself.

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