your garden evolves over time

I was looking at one of my gardening books the other day. It’s a book I’ve had a while that was published in 1996. The title is Creating a Garden by Mary Keen.

Lady Mary Keen is a British garden designer and garden writer. As someone who is very visual when thinking about her garden this book is very lovely and the text tells you a story and takes you through her garden. She talks about triumphs and setbacks in the garden and throughout the book she has these “pin boards” that show you inspiration for certain areas which is really interesting. Because before there was some thing known as Pinterest I was the person who would tear articles out of gardening magazines and photos and save them.

I am definitely influenced (as I have said many times before) by British gardeners and Irish gardeners. I love the lush look and feel of a lot of the more naturalized gardens, and it was from studying gardening books from over the pond as it were that I learned more about the fact that you could put all sorts of things in a pot. And I have over the years.

This morning I cracked this book open again because there were a couple things I was looking for. The first thing that struck me was something Lady Mary Keen said on page 11 of her book: “The best way to make a garden is slowly.” Very true.

It is totally human nature to want instant gratification in the garden. But I think that’s why I like the British gardening programs versus the American gardening programs is they are more realistic. The American “gardening” programs tend to play to our impulsive, demanding side. Boom! There it is…when in fact gardens do take time.

When we first bought the home we are in now and where I garden, I had ideas immediately of what I wanted to do, but it’s still all didn’t happen overnight. And it is still evolving.

At first, yes, I did remove things that I absolutely cannot stand like overgrown yew bushes blocking windows, and removing shrubs I knew were past their time, but still we kind of watched the various garden areas. This property was very overgrown and there were a lot of weed and pricker bushes intermixed with plants. So to start this garden I kind of started by excavating the garden. And as I have excavated, this garden has shown me what it can do, and what it can be.

We also embarked on what has been a multi year plan of tree pruning and tree trimming. The trees were not maintained at all prior to us moving in, and owning woods are a responsibility. You have to care for them for them to last.

Immediately after we settled on this house we had to pull down a bunch of stone dead trees in the woods that were actually dangerous to leave standing. We had to take down a 320 foot red oak because it was allowed to completely grow over the house.

It has taken time. And yes every year I tweak the garden beds a little more. It’s an evolutionary process. Over time you learn what works and what doesn’t work in your garden. You also learn what you might like but you don’t like it necessarily in the original spot where you placed it.

I have moved things around and I have replaced things all together. for me this garden has been a joy and a learning curve because I have never had a garden where I saw extensively dealt with shade and woodland garden beds.

I also work to make this a four-season garden and a garden that goes all the way around the house. A lot of people focus on the front or the back or both and ignore the sides. With my garden, I have chosen to have things to look at on all sides, which to me makes a garden magical.

Gardens are work. There is no other way to phrase it. But gardens will reward you if you put in the work. And that’s your sweat equity, not someone else’s.

To an extent this is why I always tell people to do their research, and figure out what kind of a garden they want to live with. The more they put into their garden the more they will get out of their garden.

And then there are the people who are just moving into houses with somewhat established gardens. A lot of times these people are in a hurry to put their stamp, their mark, on a garden. But they haven’t lived even a couple of seasons with the garden, so they don’t even really know what’s in the garden. I totally understand wanting to take out something you just don’t like and you know you don’t like, but as for the rest of it you do have to give it a little bit of time even to see what bulbs come up.

How does your garden truly grow? Over time. Enjoy the evolution.

Happy gardening.


  1. Carla, I do read your posts – I learn a lot ! I tend to want to rush my garden — when I go to a garden store I see so much I want to buy but force myself to hold back. I have limited sun and am not a huge fan of many shade plants. I have limited success with astilbe and Japanese anemone. Anyway, I appreciate your writings!


  2. This is lovely, Carla! I agree with you that it is important to find out all about your garden — its soil, bedrock, moisture, light and microclimates. One of the best things I did was to start a garden journal when I moved into my new-to-me house and garden, and recorded what came up during the year.


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