Inspired by Gardens

I am inspired by gardens, possessed by making gardens, and want to be a garden designer when I grow up. Try as I might to spend my time away from work to enrich my soul with architectural site visits (as I have done for the last thirty years of my career), I have recently found myself defaulting to garden visits. On the rare occasion that I peruse buildings, I search out ones with gardens, and then am disappointed if the gardens don’t live up to the architecture. While I am still honored to experience first-hand the many great buildings of the world, my desire to experience gardens is so much stronger now.

A few of my favorite designers of late are the well-known Bernard Trainor – who designs the most magnificent estate gardens that are stunningly beautiful and rigorously functional; and Kate Frey – who is the designer for the working beds and wandering landscape of Lynmar Winery. The beauty of the gardens at the Lynmar Winery cannot be described in either words or pictures.  I was there last weekend with Flora Grubb and her “in another time, might have been, mother in law”, Barbara. The raised beds outside the main patio had just been planted, so you could clearly see the orderly installation of seedlings at 12″ on center – with ½” hoses serpentined to reach each plant. This simple order belies the amazing and unbelievably rich, edge-of-chaos eruption that will explode in the late summer. What I loved about seeing it in May is that I realize that beauty starts with an idea and order and then coalesces into something we can’t control… as hard as we try.

Why gardens?

As I care for my aging parents, and watch my twin daughters grow into adulthood, Kate’s garden provides insight into a long human life in just one season:

We work hard to provide the place for our children (seeds) to grow. We give them nourishment (sophisticated soil amendments, compost, tea, worms).  We provide positive reinforcement when they choose good friends (synergy of planting combination of herbs, annuals, and vegetables, bee and butterfly gardens) and work hard to send the right message when they don’t (weeding of sorts). And then in summer, they start to grow (the changes that one goes through in puberty cannot be understated).  We marvel at their amazing talents, their beauty, their love of life, their laughter with friends. We know that our role is to be there, in the background, supporting and loving and simply being the person who cares for them.

And as the summer fades into autumn, Kate’s garden grows mature with age and starts to lean with the abundance of tall flowered stalks – the tentacles of vines meandering here and there, ripe with fruit and squash. And when autumn snaps, the beds take on their aging beauty, their wrinkles in full view. Some retract inward, and others shrivel from their ends. But the process reminds us that we are mortal beings who grow and die.

Death is not to be feared.

I don’t know how long my parents will live. My mom is 80 and recently had a stroke; she went from a robust, world-travelling 79-year-old to a slow, careful, unsteady, and happy-to-be-helped 80-year-old. A withering but beautiful vine with the sweetest late summer fruit ready to be harvested – and for her return to the earth.

My dad is going to be 88 on June 7th …and he is losing his memory. His flowering is well beyond autumn and withering in the dark winter months of pre-Alzheimer’s forget-me-nots. Physically healthy, but mentally deteriorating – a hard combination for any living thing.

Meanwhile, our girls just presented their 9th grade I2 (Inquiry and Innovation) research projects last night, and I was blown away by their maturity, curiosity, insightfulness, and ease at speaking in public. While neither one has a passion for gardening or architecture, it is clear that they will make their own beautiful and wonderful gardens of life.