Fling 2018: Style, Place, Perception

1. Where's this?

2. Where's this?
3. Where's this? 
 4. And this?
 5. This?
6. This? 
7. This? 

8. Hint!
1.  Austin, TX
2.  "Japanese" garden, Arcadia, CA  (Live Oaks and Cycads)
3.  "Japanese" garden, Portland, OR  (The size of those trees!)
4.  "Japanese" garden, Portland, OR  (The health of that Acer!)
5.  "Japanese" garden, Portland, OR  (Granite, blue-green light)
6.  "Japanese" garden, Austin, TX  (Limestone!)
7.  "Japanese" garden, Austin, TX  (Limestone!)
8.  "Japanese" garden, Austin, TX. Latina posing for Quinceañera photos at the Zilker Botanic Garden (and Limestone).

Must a garden style reflect its region?  Certainly a garden true to its region can be deeply satisfying--you can feel exactly where you are in the world.  You are where you are, without artifice.  The color of the light and stone, the angle of the sun, the birds and butterflies--all of it agrees.  And native plants can potentially be easier to grow than exotics.  

But must your garden reflect your region?  Will it, in some respects, no matter what you might do?  So many questions...

Definitely not Santa Monica
 Central Texas, that makes sense.  I know where I am.
Texas Live Oaks, not California Live Oaks, in Texas
California Live Oak in California--the canopy is denser and lower, (because the rainfall is less?).  The bark is lighter in color.
 Where are we now?  Indonesia?  Bali? 
 No, that's Austin, too.

Garden as personal expression may involve the gardener's heritage, loves, skill, training, favorite vacation spots, and memories, rather than the region's, though surely being immersed in a region affects the gardener's tastes.

UK sophistication of garden design, experience growing plants in several different climates, with central Texas plant and stone palette:  it works!
Some gardens place personal expression over evoking a region.    

Towards the extreme of personal expression is what I would call an "artist's garden"--the gardens of the very visual, creatively inclined or professionally creative person--a garden type that may or may not reflect the region in which it is located.  Artist's gardens seem to have more in common with other artist's gardens than with anything else, though an underlying regionalism seems to exist, tending perhaps towards the esthetic of the region's art, rather than its climate or plant palette.  Region will always be there in some way, if only in the quality of the light. 
Exuberant joyful colorful artist's bungalow garden, Berkeley California, 2013 Fling
 Colors!  Tiles!  Stuff!
 Exuberant joyful colorful artist's bungalow garden, Austin Texas 2018 Fling
 Colors!  Tiles!  Stuff!

 Another aspect to consider is this:  what is a region's innate style?  Only the local indigenous plants surrounding only pioneer, or regionally iconic architecture? 

Austin 19th century architecture, filtered through late 20th century building code? 
Can a garden clearly reflect its region no matter what?  I've visited Japanese style gardens in California,  Oregon, and now Texas, all with lanterns, conifers, rocks, and torii gates.  The conifers are bigger and healthier in Oregon than they are in California or Texas--a distinct advantage.  Could a Japanese style garden successfuly include Southern California or Texas native plants?  Woodland foliage plants like ferns or Heucheras, certainly--but Agaves?   

Only a garden located in Japan is truly a "Japanese" garden.  All the elements are there, and just right. 

These various thoughts all came to mind when during our Fling visit to the B. Jane designed garden.  (Note: some of the plant names are guesses.) The front yard seemed quintessentially contemporary Austin:  low concrete walls,  Opuntia 'Old Mexico',  Muhlenbergia (Miscanthus?) grass clumps,  Agave ovatifolia,  Dichondra argentea groundcover--all elegantly placed and arranged.

The porch decor seemed to signal a slightly different vibe--sleeker, more urban, more minimalist, perhaps, that hinted the back garden might be a surprise. 
It was the back garden that suddenly made me feel I was in Santa Monica or Redondo Beach--somewhere in coastal Southern California. 

All familiar plants, including the Bromeliads and Philodendron 'Xanadu'.
Bamboo, too. 

Graptoveria flowers tickle the Buddha's cheeks.

A comfortable and enjoyable place to linger and relax and pet the sweet dogs who live there.   

A beautiful garden with great stylistic unity.  No aspect of it seemed out of place, and no aspect of it--the plants, the hardscape, the furniture, the colors--seemed out of place for Southern California, even though we were in Austin.

That interpretation could be completely attributed to this visitor's experience.  If you'd never been to coastal California gardens, would you have thought that the B. Jane back garden declared "Santa Monica"?   Would the Austin, Portland, or California Japanese Style gardens evoke Japan for a native Japanese visitor, or would that visitor feel slightly, or completely, disconcerted?  Can't a garden evoke another region for the enjoyment of its owner, even if duplicating it in every way is impossible?  Should it?  Why not? 


  1. This is an excellent and thought-provoking post, HB! As I read through it, my prevailing thought was: this should be a magazine article or a chapter in a book on garden design. While I think every gardener has to work with the conditions of his/her climate, soil, etc to achieve long-term results, I think most have a touch of the artist within that leads them to adapt their choices to their own unique visions of what they want/need from their gardens. I can appreciate the advantages of using native plants but I'm happy to use adapted plants if they fit my taste/style/needs.

    1. Well, many questions, not many answers. A lot of success in the garden seems to come from working and reworking and reworking--experimentation. Artists are--well, that is their thing, isn't it? Experimenting? Then the success ages, and it's not as compelling as it once was, and it's time to experiment again.

  2. So many Cape Twon gardens aspire to and Englsih country garden.
    Homage to a Japanese garden perhaps?

    Do you know Denise's Japanese garden in Holland?

    1. Some English Country gardens here, too--if you have the $$$$$ for the water and the space.

      Wow, what a spectacular gardener and photographer Denise is! Thanks for the link!

  3. Such a thoughtful post. I enjoyed your pictorial thoughts. I certainly believe that a garden should reflect the gardeners interests because gardens are so personal. That is why garden tours are so popular. You can see into the soul of the gardener where there is so much love and care. You can't help but feel affection even if it isn't your way of expressing it.

    1. Very true! In a hands-on garden, you can feel the love and energy that went into it.

      The gardens I like the most are the hands-on kind created by the owner rather than professionally designed. I do admire the skill and beauty of a great professionally designed garden--but it always feels like something essential is missing.

  4. I enjoyed this post very much, and I second what Kris said, the depth of thought expressed here is good enough to be a magazine article. I love most of the posts that simply cover the gardens bloggers visit, and I usually don't much enjoy the ones that just show a sort of mish-mash of "things I saw at the Fling." This was better than both of those.

    1. You are very kind, thank you. I think many other Flingers have better photos that "cover" a garden--I always seem to neglect the layout and wide view shots. So I am trying a different approach for this Fling. It is a struggle though! I'm not very good at thinking! Many questions, few answers.

  5. I've been mulling these ideas over in my head ("must your garden reflect your region?") a lot lately. Thinking thinking thinking as I garden. Your essay gave me even more to think on, thank you.

    And that photo of Denise, it makes me so happy!

    1. Gardening is my best thinking time, but great ideas get lost as I work. Maybe I need a small recording device. Is there an app for that? (Shows you how much I use my phone.)

      Yes, fun pic of D. Slightly out of focus but such a happy smile!

  6. This is something I think about a lot. Inspired by Gerhard's review of The Desert Gardens of Steve Martino at Succulents and More, I spent quite a while reading Martino's writing, looking at pictures of Luis Barrigan's house and garden in Mexico City, and thinking about sense of place. Here's a grounding point from Martino (also comforting to aging gardeners): "The minimum requirement for a garden or the basic garden unit is a tree, a wall and a chair with a little water."

    So much depends on the degree of enclosure possible, the style/materials/scale of the house and other structures, and the climate and ecoregion. The more extreme the environmental conditions, the more crucial it is to use native and highly adapted plants as the backbone. The more you see of surrounding landscape, the more important it is not to fight with it. And on any scale, within each area of the garden, it's best to have a theme or overriding idea and stick to it. (The writer who brought this home for me was Mary Keen, in Creating a Garden).

    It would be jarring and ridiculous to have a Japanese garden here, where cattle graze on a steep hill always in sight and a big red barn dominates the view from the house. Yet there 's something undeniably Asian about the vignette immediately seen from the back porch and kitchen window: a tree peony flanked by a sort of patio of mossy stone, with a small, shallow rectangular pool at the rear. The area is an opening-up of what was a solid long border of peonies, when we discovered and uncovered a path of big flat stones beneath the lawn leading from the back steps to... nothing. My partner opined that it was silly to have a path that led nowhere, and set out to create the somewhere, which would give us a way through the border, a place for birds to bathe and drink, and a bit of level open space that would set off the tree peony. The lichen and moss that have developed on the stones have intensified the Japanese effect, but taking it any further with planting or ornament really would risk war with the rest of the garden and landscape.

    1. That does sound like a good book, will have to get a copy. I'm looking out the back door at a wall, a tree, and a chair as I type this. :^)

      Japanese garden style is very specific, and difficult to do well. I like the Portland version best of the ones I have seen, because it has magnificent big old conifers--providing a sense of age--and the climate of the forest-y PNW is much more like Japan than is Texas or Southern California.

      It does seem like a path should lead somewhere, even if it is just to a view, or a big urn--something, anything. There are enough dead ends in life, we don't need them in the garden, too.

    2. Our climate is similar enough to Japan to make evocative plantings work. It's a woodland style, and now that I think about it, there is one successful Japan-esque garden here, carved out of the woods. The house is minimalist/modernist, which harmonizes much more easily with occult balance and half-buried boulders than the actual local architectural vernacular (which leans strongly to symmetry and evokes the Federal era). What I like most about it is that a few of the most important views use locally native plants, dogwood in particular. With age and skillful pruning, they take on a very Asian effect.

      Which reminds me of one of my favorite fantasy landscapes: an Appalachian version of the highly Italianate Filoli gardens. For columns of yew, a fastigiate form of our weedy cedar (it can be seen growing wild along I-77 outside Parkersburg, WV); for the flowering cherries, serviceberries and redbuds. The grading required here in Dogpatch to terrace enough flat surfaces for the proper effect keeps this in the realm of fantasy, though I understand some of the plutocrats who summer in Bath county have done it to accommodate big lawns for their mansions.

    3. Yes, woodlands seem to agree with that style. Seems like someone with design talent (disqualifies me) could use different plants, gates and stone lanterns of a completely different style, and evoke or honor a Japanese style garden in a very original way.

      Saw a garden path in the neighborhood using Pedilanthus bracteatus as the vertical columnar element. Didn't quite work, but it seems like it could.

  7. On the matter of 'one idea to an area': It's almost impossible to gauge this without being in the garden, but from Pam's original post it seemed that the daylily hybridizers' garden has a few places where the Moroccan and Thai/Indonesian themes come too close together for comfort. Both plant palettes can work in Austin, one in sun and the other with some shade, but having both styles of decorative elements in the same field of view is tough to handle

    1. That garden was a very young garden, just getting going, so I imagine given the talent of the owners it will evolve eventually to become what it is meant to be. I think I will mull over that garden. Now I remember it, there was a whole lot of different stuff in it, Morocco and Indonesian, but also an outdoor Texas farmhouse dining room sort of thing, a wild Hill Country creek, and on top of that, an extensive daylily collection.

  8. I'm sure Denise was pondering the dinner. It was a great dinner! This is a topic that really resonates with me. I agonize over the architecture of my house relative to the plants in the garden and the native plants that are very close by along the river. I have had to accept that there is no architectural integrity in a tract house , and that I am a plant collector and thus struggle with plant placement and how it integrates into my small garden. One of the things I loved about Austin was how many of the gardens were noticeably Texan-the stone, the oaks , the water tanks. In California we were settled post-war by people from all over the country who brought their hometown design aesthetic with them. There are enclaves where 'old California' can still be seen (Monterey, San Diego, San Miguel ) but we are a melting pot. Everyone wants our climate. Really enjoyed this insightful post Hoov.

    1. "Old California", it's really another myth. We have as many as the Ancient Greeks. Everyone prefers the California of 75 years ago, don't they? It's an ingrained tradition. 75 years ago, people preferred the California of 75 years before that. It has changed so much, and not for the better.

      Yes yes, the stone, the oaks, the water tanks, the Hesperaloe, the torrential rain.

      Yes, people here brought their gardens from elsewhere. I was pondering on how the Huntingtons brought the formal rose garden to their estate in San Marino, but how William Hertrich, the plant-loving man hired to manage the farm, managed to talk Mr. Huntington into buying some cactus...

  9. I probably was extremely pleased over having just stuffed one of those wonderful fling dogs in that enormous bag I carried everywhere to take home with me -- just kidding! If there's open views, as some of these Austin gardens had, then a sensitivity to the view and the native landscape seems a bare minimum. In a small urban garden, design-wise, I say anything goes --

    1. Good point about open views.

      If you show up here with an enormous bag, I'm hiding B&N!


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