Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Garden Lessons Learned in Asheville

Garden Walk season is in full swing, including our local annual Master Gardener Walk which is this coming Saturday.  I always enjoy touring other gardens, and I often come home with some new ideas for plants I'd like to try or perhaps a creative way to use a "found" object as garden art.  But all too often I come home a little depressed.  I look at my own garden more critically when comparing it to others I've just seen--it's so small, it's not as tidy, it doesn't have a cohesive design, plants are crammed in too tightly, and on and on until I'm ready to throw up my hands in despair and start all over. 

However, that wasn't the case on my recent trip to Asheville for this year's Garden Bloggers' Fling.   I learned many lessons from the gardens we visited there that gave me a new perspective on my own garden.

"A Hedge Against Extinction" at the North Carolina Arboretum, 
which became this year's Fling icon.

For example, I learned that these weren't fingers reaching up to the sky, but a representation of trees.  See the green tips on each branch?  According to the artist, these either represent "all that is left or the beginnings of a new greening.  The answer is in the hands of those who tend the garden."

I also learned that garden bloggers always have their cameras ready for the next photo op:

Helen and sister Sarah of  Toronto Gardens checking out the poppies in Christopher Mello's garden.

Touring gardens with fellow gardeners is always a learning experience, because someone in the group can usually identify a plant you might be unfamiliar with and give some helpful advice on growing it.

Janet not only knows trees but also many other plants of the Southeast

But the most important lesson I learned in Asheville is that no two gardens are the same and that it's okay to bend the "rules" to reflect your own personal style.

Your garden might have unlimited space:

View at the North Carolina Arboretum

 Or it might be a tiny corner you have created:

Display at BB Barns in Asheville, a fantastic nursery and garden center.

If you like things neat and orderly, you can create a formal garden:

Quilt garden at NC Arboretum

Or you can let Nature be your guide, creating a haven for bees and wildlife:

An impromptu stop on the way home--this garden is not in Asheville.  Can you guess where we are?
If you want to pull every poppy in your garden that isn't blue, then no one is going to stop you.  The bees will love them, no matter the color:

In the garden of Christopher Mello, where he is cultivating a new 'Blue Pearl' poppy.

If your passion is growing vegetables, then go for it:

Raised veggie beds at Sunny Point Cafe where patrons know exactly where their food comes from.

But if you also love flowers . . .

Iris in front garden at Nan Chase's
 . . . there's no reason you can't grow  flowers and edibles together in your front yard if you so desire.

Nan Chase's front yard

A closer look at Nan's house which is sided with bark.

I also learned that sometimes weeds can be beautiful:

Swamp milkweed at NC Arboretum

And that it's good to take a break from the work now and then and just enjoy!

Anneliese serenading strolling bloggers at Haywood Community College's garden.

Garden art has always stymied me, too.  What will look good in my garden?  Where should I place it?  The gardens of Asheville taught me a few lessons as well.

You don't have to have a bold bottle tree if you're a little shy.  A smaller one can add a colorful touch just as well:

Smaller blue bottles on a smoke tree at Christopher Mello's garden.

You can have something specially made that fits your garden and house:

Bark planters on Nan Chase's porch

Or you can use materials you already have to create a unique work of art:

Fountain at Christopher Mello's made from scrap metal.

Metal cogs (?) lining the stairway at Wamboldtopia.

Of course, if you are really talented, you can create something unique and extraordinary, like a fairy mansion:

The creation of Damaris Pierce at Wamboldtopia.
There really are no rules when it comes to a garden.  You can follow ideas from famous garden designers if you want, or throw them out and add your own whimsical touches:

If you love pirates and want to hang a skeleton from your rooftop,  why not?

Christopher Mello's "Shovelhenge"

Or if you want to create a gravel play space in the middle of your garden and call it "Dump Truck Park" or surround it with rusty shovels and call it "Shovelhenge,"  more power to you!

It is all in how you look at things.  

You see, the biggest lesson I learned in Asheville--an epiphany of sorts--was that every garden is unique, just as every gardener is a unique individual.  It is a lesson I probably should have learned long ago, having heard this principle many times.  But sometimes lessons must be taught and taught again before the student absorbs and understands the information.  It took seeing so many different gardens over a course of a few short days, each with their own special style, to realize that I don't have to copy someone else's garden and that my small and often chaotic garden is just fine.

Red Admiral visiting the coneflowers in my own garden today.

Whatever brings you joy . . . that is what a garden should be.

I'm linking this post to Plant Postings' garden lessons learned for this season. Thanks, Beth, for hosting this and inspiring us to reflect on the past season. This is also probably the last post specifically on Asheville I'm going to write (other than a very special "prequel" to Asheville one of these days).  If you'd like to see more of these gardens, you can check them out here; or, if you've been enticed by all the Fling posts to visit Asheville yourself, here's a handy link to plan your trip and explore Asheville's gardens.


  1. This is a fabulous post Rose. The Fling tour was liberating. You have expressed it so good here. I love your garden you should be proud of it. You work hard and it shows. Have fun touring the gardens this weekend. Wish I had the gumption to drive over and tour with you.

  2. This is a lesson I need to learn, and you present it so well. I came home a little depressed from a friend's gorgeous garden last night, and thought all the things your lead paragraph says, every last sentiment. My garden is also too small, not cohesive, etc. etc. You nailed my feelings exactly!

    Now, reading your post I have some attitude adjustments to make as I try to learn how to appreciate idiosyncrasies in each garden, my own included : )

  3. Dear Rose,
    Learning to love our gardens "as is" and still aspire/inspire is often the work of many years in the garden. You are finding your way....I believe the garden reflects the gardener....your cone flowers and your Red Admiral are beautiful.
    We find our "why we do what we do"....
    happy touring and falling in love with your own back yard...
    Happy Summer Solstice,

  4. I too had the same epiphany! I am lacking height in my gardens but who cares! My gardens and I get joy from playing in them height or not. I took so much away from the Fling and my mind has been flowing with inspiration but too hot to create for me now. Oh well, there is always this fall….

  5. Dear Rose,

    Your garden is a credit to you. I have watched you grow with your garden. I remember the novice that came to blogging, now the teacher, who often inspires me.
    Gardening is a wonderful hobby, we learn a lot about ourselves.......

    I love that fairy mansion and I know a little girl who would love to have it in the fairy garden under the old apple tree :)

    Wonderful post, loved viewing all the different gardens, tku Rose.

  6. Fine lessons indeed! I like the diversity of gardens you showcase here. When we lived in Cambridge MA, our garden was just a few planters on a tiny deck, bue we loved it. It's how you use the space, not the acres.

  7. Superb wrap-up and good lessons learned. We all need to remember to listen to our 'inner gardener' to find what is right for us!! Thanks for the compliment on my knowing plants...if it were only so!

  8. Superb wrap-up and good lessons learned. We all need to remember to listen to our 'inner gardener' to find what is right for us!! Thanks for the compliment on my knowing plants...if it were only so!

  9. Excellent lessons from Asheville and so very true that gardens must please the gardener. No rules apply just do it!

  10. Oh my goodness, Rose. This is one of the best garden blogger posts I have ever read, and it's not just because of your link to the meme (although I appreciate that, too). Thank you for the nod to individuality in the garden, and for all the great pics, and your great prose. This is a great example to us all of how we can share garden joys and lessons, and appreciate our own individual gifts in the garden. You made my day!

  11. Wow! Amazing.

    I fear any attempt on my part to be creative with what I have to hand would end up looking like a pile of junk and not as stunning as the sculptures you showed us.

    All very beautiful.

  12. Rose, A fabulous post! I always take away so many good ideas from Fling and sometimes I've felt my garden was less than I wanted it to be. But, this time, I didn't make those comparisons (maybe I've matured or am following my garden agreements.) I had a wonderful time and wished I had been home when you stopped by. The garden is in flower now...wish you were here now! xogail

  13. I was going to name the photos that really inspired me, like the fairy garden & the blue pearl poppy and the blue bottles (not flies) & then I realised that I would have had to mention all of them!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  14. What a fantastic trip! Thanks for sharing all your photos :)

    I like your last sentiment though... after starting my small garden from nothing last year I have started to be able to pick flowers to bring inside recently. That was one of my main aims. Yesterday I picked red roses and bright blue lavender and put them by my bedside, then I picked a bunch of Sweet Williams for Tall Girl . It made me ridiculously happy!

    S x

  15. Very good lessons, and so true. I always think that if my garden was perfect, I might miss all the musing I do thinking about how to make it better :-)

  16. Lisa, "Liberating" is the word I was looking for to describe the Fling experience! I wish you could join me this weekend, too, but it's going to be another hot one.

    Laurrie, I've come to realize my garden is never going to be "perfect." That being said, though, it sure needs some work!

    Sherry, My coneflowers run rampant in several parts of the garden, but they bring me such delight, they will always be a part of my garden.

  17. Rose, what a fabulous round-up of Asheville! I so agree with you--the uniqueness and creativity of each garden made me assess our own gardens when I returned. There were so many things I loved...but I also loved being home and enjoying the idea of what next to create in our gardens. What an inspirational visit!

  18. Oh Rose, how wonderful you've come full circle in a way, right back to your own back yard. I'm trying to quote "there's no place like home" from the Wizard of Oz, but it didn't quite come out right. I'm sure you understand.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing your "aha" moment with us fellow bloggers. Gardens do reflect their owners, I think and looking at your post, I can see so much creativity! It's unbelievable! Like those trees (that look like hands) reaching up to the sky, the dump truck shovel-henge (my 3 year old grandson would be in heaven!), the fairy mansion, and on and on and on!

    How lucky you are to have gone to Ashville! And we are lucky you've shared your photos with us!
    P.S. - your coneflowers are gorgeous!

  19. I am a little late in the game but I am so glad I stopped by. What a great post! I love your honesty and think this is great advise for all gardeners. I look forward to exploring your blog.

  20. I couldn't agree more with your sentiment that primarily a garden should bring you joy. There's no fun in comparing ourselves and feeling dejected. I toured a private garden last year that told me so much about the owner. Shouldn't we revel in the individuality that a home and garden reflect.

  21. I agree with what everyone else has said in terms of praising the photos and the prose. First-rate work!

    But I'm not sure I agree with the notion that all gardens are equally worthy/valid/beautiful.

    For the same reasons I oppose moral relativism, I think it's OK to take a stand and say that some gardens are better than others.

    Isn't it possible that a well-tended garden can be better than a weed-choked and overgrown garden?

    Couldn't a garden filled with biological diversity be better than a garden that is dominated by repetition of just a few overused plant species/varieties?

    Might not a native and waterwise garden be better than a garden filled with potentially invasive plants that need lots of supplemental water to thrive?

    I know it's a little scary to criticize gardens, for then we open ourselves and our own gardens to criticism.

    Well, having thrown the first stone, let me say that I know that I am not without gardening sin! My own garden could certainly be criticized from multiple angles. And I might be my garden's own harshest critic.

  22. Skeeter, I was glad to see that you had the same epiphany in Asheville. I came away not only with inspiration but feeling good about gardening in general. Yes, I wish it wasn't so darned hot and dry so I could work more in my own garden!

    Cheryl, Thank you for those kind words. I do feel more confident about gardening than I did in those early years, though I realize I still have much to learn. Poppi would have loved the garden with the fairy mansion--lots of little surprises everywhere.

    Sarah, So true; people who have only a balcony garden are gardeners as much as someone with acres of flowers and shrubs.

    Janet, My garden wouldn't win any awards, but it's filled with plants I love. Such a pleasure to meet you in Asheville--you did identify several mystery plants for me.

    Tina, Asheville was such a great inspiration and confidence-booster for me.

    Plant Postings, Thank you! And thank you for hosting this meme. I learned some lessons in my own garden this spring again, but what I came away with from Asheville was the most important one of all.

    Liz, I wouldn't begin to attempt to create some of those unusual sculptures--they'd definitely look like junk in my yard:) I'm sticking to plants for now.

    Gail, I had such a different feeling coming home from Asheville than from other garden tours. Thanks for letting us wander through your garden; I wish I could see it now!

    Maggie, Glad you enjoyed it; I had to limit the number of photos I included, or this post would have been way too long!

    Suburbia, I'm so glad you finally have your own garden! I understand the feeling being able to bring flowers inside, knowing they came from something you have grown yourself.

    Cassi, That's a good point--my favorite part of gardening is planning new plantings and coming up with new ideas. If we ever reached perfection, we wouldn't have anything to do!

  23. Julie, You've summed up my feeling so well. I came home excited to work in my own garden, not discouraged about how small or untidy it was...well, the weeds that had grown in my absence were a little discouraging:)

    Wendy, I like that idea that I've come full circle. We had a great time in Asheville, but by the end of the week my two traveling companions and I were ready to be home again.

    Karin, Thanks for stopping by; I enjoyed your post as well. I've learned that gardening is definitely an individual style.

    Marguerite, On this past weekend's garden tour, another gardener commented that she liked the gardens where there was a lot of space between plants, while I preferred the ones where you couldn't see a bit of bare soil--we all are individuals!

    Aaron, You make some valid points. Yes, I prefer a weed-free garden and definitely one with diversity. But I was thinking more of styles. It's like the poem about wearing purple with a red hat--if you like it, then don't worry what anyone else thinks of your taste!

  24. Asheville was both revelatory and inspiring to me ... I'm still processing it all.

  25. Beautiful trip you have made. I wish I could send you some rain out of here. We have got plenty. Beautiful photo's Rose. And your words are all so true. Have a nice week.

  26. Rose, These are all great lessons and you have highlighted some of my favourite shots from your trip. I love the Stonehenge ring of shovels so much I like to copy it somewhere and I also love the railing made of scrap metal circles. The shot of the garden bloggers zooming in with their cameras is priceless. As I look at the picture, I found myself wondering, what must they see there? It sure doesn't look like much from this angle. Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder!

  27. I love the flowers you have in your garden. The variety of daylilies that you have. They are truly beautiful flowers. I have quite a few in my garden and I find them very easy to grow, and demand very little. Happy GBBD

    Yael from Home Garden Diggers


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