Garden Soup


A few days ago in Springs

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES in the garden. Have you heard this about perennials? First year they sleep… second year they creep… third year they leap.


Same view, one year ago this week

Well, I’m only in my second year of real gardening at my Long Island cottage, and frankly, I’m already a little worried about what year #3 may bring.


After more than a week of relentless rain, and the frequent application of Deer-Out, my beds are already crowded with plants eager to take over the spaces occupied by their neighbors.


You know me by now — can’t just relax and enjoy it, for godssakes. Nope, I’ve got to fret and fuss and imagine what could go wrong, notwithstanding something I remember a wise lecturer saying at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden: there are very few true emergencies in the garden (it’s not like Nurse Jackie, my new favorite show).


My chief fear is specifically discussed in the just-reissued classic Envisioning the Garden: Line, Scale, Distance, Form, Color and Meaning by Robert Mallet (Norton), with lots of pictures from Le Bois des Moutiers, a famous Normandy garden, and textbook-like diagrams illustrating various principles of garden architecture.


These words jumped out at me: “A flower bed devoid of forms cannot be seen properly. This is the effect we find in gardens containing a lot of ground-cover plants when they have been left to their own devices for too long; they sometimes turn into a sort of soup, and everything has to be uprooted and replanted to form separate groups again.”

That’s what I’m afraid of: garden soup. Mine was minestrone from the beginning, and I can see it becoming puree.

Those silly snapdragons should go into a container, methinks

As my friend Lula said, “Hmmm… you’ve got so much here.” Yes, too much, perhaps. I’m upstate at the moment, where I gardened for several years, and which always reminds me how quickly things can get out of hand without constant vigilance.


Last year, my garden was just getting started. This year, it’s full and lush (note to self: ENJOY IT!) Next year: the garden that ate East Hampton?

5 thoughts on “Garden Soup

  1. Love the “garden soup” concept! :o) I think most gardeners fall into that mix. Just think structure when designing and you’ll find that your garden will take form. Editing is another key word. When we bought our house about 13 yrs. ago there was a 100 ft. split rail fence with peonies, violets and perennial sweet peas in wild abandon along with most of the lawn creeping in as well. I’d never had a garden of my own and would just spend days staring at it not even knowing where to begin. Initially, I purchased one or two of every single flowering plant I’d craved over years of armchair gardening. However, I learned my mistakes quickly. Over the past decade I not only changed to a picket fence (mostly to hide the mess), but I tried to edit and relocate so many of those plants, other wildflowers that popped up plus numerous deciduous sapling trees that didn’t reveal themselves until they were about 3 feet tall, which made for a bigger project of transplanting. You see, like you, I went “wild” (no pun intended) with plants! Then I don’t have the heart to discard anything on the compost pile. (Afterall, a weed is just a plant doing what Nature intended, but where we don’t want it.) Not a good combination, but I’ve resolved myself to simply ADDING structural plants like bushes at the forefront of the garden along the path, which seems to lend a sense of calmness and control to the mass of cottage style blooms behind. You may find the same will help you, too, as you grow along with your garden and nature’s beauty in your own yard!

  2. hi Jeanne, thanks for sharing, and at such length! Agree with everything you said… especially about adding shrubs (evergreen preferably) to give structure to the whole. And avoiding the temptation to buy one of this and two of that… I keep remembering an “instant garden” planned and installed by Dean Riddle, an upstate NY garden designer, who used THIRTY-FIVE of each of just four perennials. All best to you too, in working with those impulses toward “wild abandon.” Your paintings are magnificent by the way (at first I thought they were photographs!)

  3. I love it –Just like it is–and next year it’ll be wild and wonderful. I’m very envious.
    So that deer repellant must work?

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