Sunday, August 22, 2010

The over-planted garden

This year my husband, Rick, and I were judges in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society city gardens contest. The requirements to be a judge are not that stringent— membership in the Horticultural Society and attendance at a training session for prospective judges.

At the training session, we were shown examples of good and bad gardens, including a photo described as “an over-planted garden.” I didn’t understand what the problem was; it looked good to me.

When I got home, I looked at my garden and realized I had created one of those horticultural no-no’s: "the over-planted garden." Rick said if the Horticultural Society trainers could see our garden, they would never let us be judges. Probably so.

Thanks to my friend Fran Waksler, I’ve learned the trick of taking photos of my garden when it’s especially wild and unkempt: close-ups.

Here’s the star of my August garden, crape myrtle:

And when my garden’s really a mess, there’s the close-up of the single flower. This amazing dahlia (variety unknown) begins as a rosy lavender and gradually morphs into a blazing orange:

It’s clear my garden will never win a prize in the city gardens contest. Rick made me feel a little better about it; “Think of a garden as creating an environment—a place you want to be—not a showpiece which meets the highest standards of the Horticultural Society.”

I thought I had made my peace with the messiness of my garden and wrote a post last August in which I proudly stated: “ I can deal with the fact that some of my friends think my garden is a chaotic mess… It took me a lot longer than it should have to get to this state of acceptance, but I think I’m there.”

Well, I’m not quite there yet, but I’ll keep working on making peace with my garden’s imperfections. It’s a lot easier than creating the perfect garden.


  1. I don’t think of your garden as over-planted. It is lush and beautiful. Horticultural standards are but one style and not to everyone’s taste. I suspect my garden would be judged under-planted. I like lots of shades of green, lots of white, and only occasionally splashes of color. If I can sit in the yard at my garden table with my cup of coffee and feel tranquil as I look at my garden, I have achieved my goal. If you can look out at your garden and revel in its lush profusion, you have achieved your goal.

  2. Your lush, cheerful, crepe-myrtle and dahlia filled garden has won the Biggest Smile of the Day award from my heart to yours. Living in the arid climes of the desert southwest, I would lie anywhere in your garden, at a table with a drink or on my back looking up at the leaves and the sky.

    Rick is right - your garden is a place you want to be and that makes it, in my estimation, anyway, just perfect!

  3. Your garden offers a wonderful array of beautiful colors and shapes, Karen. I vote for your sticking to what pleases you, which not coincidentally then gives you more time to sit and gaze. And here's to crape myrtle!

  4. Ashleigh, Reni and Fran,

    Thanks for the encouragement! I’m an insecure gardener and really appreciate the kind words.

  5. I like it just as it is--not too tweaked or contrived or Edward Scissorhanded into submission. It's perfect. And the dahlia close-up has rendered me green with envy; it's too hot for them to thrive here.

  6. I've been unhappy with my front garden all summer although others keep telling me it's lovely. It's definitely in your overcrowded garden category. The thing is, I just don't know enough about what I'm doing to know how to bring it down a notch. Advice?

  7. I can’t bear to pull out a happy, healthy plant because the garden looks a little crowded, so I cut back.
    This morning I filled 4 trash cans with branches from over grown shrubs. I’m afraid that’s the only advice I have.

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