My Picket Fence Garden

Some of my clients just want an audience. I know how they feel. When I lived at South Turkey Creek, my garden was beautiful, but it was for the benefit of one–me. We lived off an old logging road, off a secondary road that was so far out a friend of mine brought milk and bread when she visited. Our home wasn’t visible from the road, and my garden was only seen by those who drove down our driveway, and they had to get through a locked farm gate.

So, I get it when someone calls for an appointment and I drive up and think, they do not need my help, but I am getting the camera out because oh my gosh. Sometimes, it’s a legit question, or they need another eye on the garden because it feels “off”. But when my sole contribution to the hour is to suggest white wood’s aster for fall shade areas, I know they mostly wanted garden company and someone to appreciate their creation. Don’t we all? If we create it, don’t we want someone to see that creation?

That’s how I feel about my picket fence garden on the west side of my current house, where I moved to from South Turkey Creek. I finally have an audience.

My picket fence runs parallel to the sidewalk and the street and has a small planting space on either side of the fence, a pathway, and a row of azaleas against the house. My house sits at a four-way stop and while I live in a small town, it is a short-cut for many, so there are lots of drivebys for the garden, plus all the walkers, runners, moms with baby joggers, couples in the late evenings, dog walkers, bicyclists, pretty much the whole dang town. I love it. I break every garden coaching rule in the book and do as my friend Carol says: “We can be subtle all winter, in summer lets break out some color.”

In the horticultural world, there’s a bit of snobbery around plants. Some plants are considered “tacky” others are considered “acceptable” in the garden because, well, only horticulturists know them. The more obscure, the better. Example: My gladiolus, which just finished blooming, would be scorned by many of my more plant-knowledgable friends. But my mountain mint (Pycanthemum muticum) which is planted next to my Astilboides tabularis is adored.  Lest you think I am exempt from this snobbery, I promise I am not.

But now that I have an audience, I don’t care about horticulturally correct plants. I’m going for the fame, and I am shameless about it. I garden when my neighbors are walking or driving home from work. Why? Because that’s when they all stop to say how beautiful it all is.  Aggie knows the drill. She stands next to me, looking adorable while I weed, and people stop and say, “I love your flowers. Thank you so much for doing this.” One guy yelled from his car that my garden made his day especially since his kids were such brats (yes, his kids were in the car). It’s enough to make up for all those years when I gardened in oblivion. What I know about most people is that they don’t work in beautiful gardens like I do. They work in cubicles. They work in hospitals, convenience stores, office buildings, classrooms, patrol cars, firetrucks, insurance offices, stores, and restaurants. They don’t drive up to beautiful homes with magazine-worthy gardens and stroll around the landscape.

Echinacea? They love it. Orange daylilies? They’re so pretty.

I throw so much color at that fence I expect to explode and the more color I plant, the more people stop. I’m not trying to teach them anything about ornamental gardening. I am creating a 35′ length of sidewalk for them to enjoy during snippets of their day. Nothing brings me more pleasure because this world is hard. And gardens bring joy.

I am asked all the time if I ever envy the gardens of my clients. No, I don’t. I mean they’re lovely, unbelievable works of art that I wish everyone could see and enjoy, but everyone gets to see my picket fence garden. They only have to drive by or walk the dog. They can smell the roses, stoop over to examine the salvia, exclaim over 4′ tall allium, wonder what a passion flower is or just stand there enjoying. I change it up every year. I add and subtract and see what works, but there are no rules of design or even maintenance. I don’t worry about the weeds overly much because they don’t notice them. They just see the dinner-plate dahlias and swoon. It’s nice to toss out everything I know and just plant what I think will make people happy. Some years I plant vegetables, some years elephant ears, but every year I plant sunflowers because they all love those.

The best part of sharing this garden with all my neighbors? They tell me stories of the gardens they remember. Maybe an aunt’s, or a grandmother, or their father, but they love to tell me and I love to listen. They don’t know the names of the most basic flowers, but they remember those flowers from loved one’s gardens. And for reasons only the gardeners know, those stories almost always bring tears. I like to think they’re healing tears.




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