Is there a new style of gardening emerging in America?
I think so.
Based on what we have learned over the past forty years, our style and outlook on gardening are changing.
During the 1970’s, Oehme van Sweden, Landscape Architects in Washington, D.C. pioneered ‘The New American Garden’. Their gardens featured perennial grasses in large sweeps and largely ignored lawns. These guys were the original purveyors of the Miscanthus craze that continues to this day. I had Miscanthus strictus in my yard for about three years, as a striking accent plant it worked until it got big and flopped over; this grass once flopped was 10 feet around and not very striking. Unlike my southern mother, I am not a plant staker. Plants have to stand on their own in my garden or they asked to leave. Unceremoniously.
The term Xeriscaping was coined in the early 1980’s by a guy in Colorado. Since then the idea has caught on and is utilized in the United States and around the world. Permaculture is an Australian idea that expands and encourages permanent culture of the earth in the most sustainable ways. Basically the idea of Xeriscape is grouping plants by their watering and maintenance needs and only watering when necessary instead of just dousing everything. In permaculture the further away from the house you get, the less intensive the maintenance of the landscape. Intensively planted vegetable gardens near the house that fade away into the forest zone by zone. Of course, this is an oversimplification of both concepts.
While I appreciate the validity of both schools of thought, the difficulty begins with the fact that all this has to be figured out, zoned, designed and then implemented. I have yet to meet anyone who paid me to do a Master Landscape Plan for their house that did not change their mind about something. Usually a significant something. Rare is the person who can make a plan, zone everything for water and maintenance and stick with the program. I certainly can’t. The older I get , the more I enjoy hardscape.
People seem to enjoy taking small bites of sustainability. A Rain Garden in a low spot in the yard. Using pervious gravel or mulch for pathways. Planting native plant material. Cutting out toxic pesticides and herbicides.
I have read of eco lawns becoming popular in the Western United States. This intrigued me until I saw what it was. More of the Wildflower Meadow romanticism that has been floating around for 30 years. I think Old fields look great weeds and all. However, I don’t want one in front of my house. I suspect the majority of gardeners like to have some lawn. I have a lawn, purposely sited over the septic tank. It does so well, we are afraid to fertilize it. It might overrun the house late at night.
Now there is talk of what is the Modern Garden. I am not sure Modern is the right word. Modern coming after New. It is all the same. Soon it will be the updated Modern Garden. All I (we?) really want is something we can plant and enjoy that is not too much work or a waste of resources! It seems like such a simple idea ? Here are some ideas to reach this goal:
Plant reliable, drought tolerant, non invasive perennials. In small doses.
Focus on natives with a soft lens. Some are great. Some are weeds. Do some research; plant the good ones.
Quit using Glyphosphate and anything with Atrazine in it. It is already in our groundwater and nobody knows how long it takes for the earth to metabolize it. Stop adding it. Non toxic weed killers and pesticides work. If you have a few bugs or weeds – get over it.
Support your local gardening community by planting seasonal containers, they are different everywhere. A pop of color near your favorite walkway is a pick me up every time you pass by. I like succulents for the summer. My size limit is a 15″ wide container, if it is smaller, it takes too much maintenance, (watering). Buy a big pot, go to the local nursery, buy some flowers and hope for good advice. Embrace local..add some tropicals in the summer. Floridian growers need support too.
Use the most drought tolerant turfgrass possible. If it turns brown in winter, so be it. If there are a few weeds in it, so be it. The Golden Bear does not live at my house, I think he is retired..
I think people get overexcited about irrigation. I have never had separate zones because I am really frugal with water. The lawn has to need it badly before the water comes on, if I have a new tree it gets a gator bag (this is a bag that can be filled with water, the water slowly leaks out onto the tree providing a few days worth of water). Irrigation does not abdicate anyone of the responsibility of paying attention. It will not establish anything but turf unless everything is wastefully watered.
I think the New Modern American Gardening Style is Rustic. The Rustic Style includes: Being mindful of water and its use, ceasing the use of toxic chemicals, a little brown and a few weeds are OK. Always have a nice container planting where it will be enjoyed. Add hardscape where you would like to hang out and relax, it is really less maintenance.
I think it was the Landscape Architect Dan Franklin, who said: “You should be able to take care of your garden in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening” I am striving for that.