Monday, August 31, 2009

The Seven Gardens of Meme

Sarah and Helen of Toronto Gardens have kindly bestowed upon me the honor of a "Seven Things About You" meme, and it feels so much like, "have another glass of wine, dear and tell us about yourself" that I accept!

In pondering the topic, my mind veered into the garden, as it often does. I saw that there have been seven particularly influential gardens in my life. Spanning nearly five decades, their stories make for a passable memoir of a California gardener. Thank you for inspiring
me to share them!

Garden 1: Floribunda roses in Sunnyvale, CA 1967

For the first four years of my life I traveled with my parents as a Navy family. We lived in Texas, San Diego and the Philippines, but I recall little of it. In 1964 we moved to Sunnyvale, and when my dad finished his tour of duty, we stayed in the 'Valley of Heart's Delight.'

Our first garden was a simple suburban lot in the heart of what was rapidly becoming Silicon Valley, but at that time was more orchards than offices. My mother planted roses and annuals and old fashioned shrubs like pussy willow. My dad built us a clever play yard. There were trees to climb, just enough lawn, and a full complement of butterflies, bugs and birds, of which I was inordinately fond.

I have such vivid memories of that garden, much more so than the inside of the house. Looking through photos for the post I could almost smell that particular fragrance of snapdragons as you squeeze their sides to make a tiny roar; and almost taste that drop of nectar you can sip from a nasturtium.

Garden 2: My room, Saratoga, CA 1977
In 1970 we moved to Saratoga, where I commenced my teen years. We had a different sort of garden there, perched at the top of a creek bank lined with large pine trees. It was a larger and wilder place.

During those years we played in the creek, planted vegetables and enjoyed the many fruit trees. But I have to say, my main horticultural interest then was houseplants, I loved them, my private oasis in my room. Back in the day, I was the QUEEN of macrame plant holders.
My true gardens would have to wait a bit longer.

Garden 3: With a small helper, Aptos, CA 1989

My stay-home mom years coincided with a move to Aptos, along the coast south of Santa Cruz, where my first husband and I rented a home for eight years. My creative outlet during that time was building my first 'real' gardens.

It all started innocently enough, a row of petunias down the driveway, but with that first little taste I was hooked. By the second summer the tiny front yard was overflowing with perennials. Those were the years of gardening books, magazines and catalogs stacked by the bed, and a grubby baby monitor in the tool bucket.

Garden 4: My first sanctuary, Aptos, CA 1991

With no more room in front, I set out to reclaim the tiny (~10' deep) back garden. Our house was cut into a steep, north-facing slope covered with live oaks, ivy, native hazelnut, elderberry, wild currant and blackberry, all intertwined with copius amounts of poison oak. Fellow blogger Ivette Soler (The Germinatrix) recently wrote about how the jungle advances like the ocean. This stuff advanced like a tsunami!

The garden I made, by adding a planter along the retaining wall, a deck outside our bedroom doors and a shade garden under an arbor, was actually a finalist in a contest (for small gardens under 200sf) held by The Victory Garden. It didn't win, but to have such an early effort recognized at all was very cool!

Garden 5: My first 'Landscape' San Jose, CA 2006

Fast-forward through four dalliances with rental house gardens to
the landscape my second husband and I created, with the help of a landscape architect whose work we admired. The flat lot was transformed into something really quite unique and lovely.

These pictures were taken six years after planting; only the mugo pines by the walk and some star jasmine remain of the original. This west-facing ranch-style home, with its large windows used to be an exposed, hot fishbowl. What it became was a colorful dappled private woodland and meadow, with a house nestled in.

Garden 5: Where my Buddha used to sit

The bones of the garden were the large granite boulders used throughout, sometimes as structure, sometimes as accent. I love boulders in a garden, and use them often (I like structure you can count on, and you can count on rocks.) The cream-colored pot is actually a bubbling fountain, really nice to have near a front door.

Garden 5: Front Entry

We had the hand-carved front door made in Santa Fe; the chip-carved surface almost looks like hammered metal, and the stain went beautifully with the house color, the brick and the bluestone porch. Taking advantage of its willingness to roam, I liberated the star jasmine from the foundation bed and allowed it to ramble along the roofline, one of my favorite details.

Garden 5: Pinching the view; privacy in layers

We used 'pinched views' to gain privacy without blocking the house off completely, as a fence or hedge might do. The garden is actually quite open in the middle, once you walk up the path or over this hill between the shrub rose and large phormium. The focal point stone in the center was a particularly fine place to pose a large furry spider at Halloween!

Alas, this garden was not to stay mine; we sold the house not long after these photos were taken, and another family has made the garden their own. These may well be the last record of "how it was."

Garden 6: My second sanctuary, San Jose, CA 2006

Which brings us almost up-to-date. When I moved into my present home in the summer of 2006 I was a little discouraged to find myself back to square one, but also excited about finally using my years of experience as a landscape designer to create a new garden for myself.

Garden 6: My second sanctuary: 2009

The back came first, as it had been reduced to dirt during a remodel. I've written about this particular corner before; it is my favorite place to be, under the Red Umbrella. It has taught me much about the healing power of peaceful surroundings, particularly gardens.

The back garden was designed and built rather quickly to take advantage of a rare alignment of resources; for the next one I would take my time.

Garden 7: My Manifesto 2006

This is my house as I first saw it. Small, sunny, perfect; I immediately knew it was home. However, it would be a couple of years before I could replace my aging lawn, and I semi-dutifully mowed and watered the tyrant until a sprinkler head broke last year. I saw that as a sign, and let the lawn die with no regrets.

Garden 7: My Manifesto 2009

This winter, with business much slower and my nest newly empty, the time and resources were there to begin in earnest. My dad did the beautiful woodwork; every bit as artful and sturdy as the play yard he built more than 40 years ago. Working with him was a precious opportunity, and I happily bequeathed him my power mower in gratitude for his help.

So the garden mandala I've been creating for three years is now complete; harmonious elements combined to surround, infuse and define my private world. It is not perfect by any means, but it certainly shows how far I've come since that first row of petunias.


Thanks for joining me on my long journey; I'm a bit exhausted! Now is the part where I sent you off on further adventures. Here are seven different directions you can go:

A Verdant Life John Black writes SO well, and has a knack for introducing provocative viewpoints with wit, insight, and the chops to back them up.

Blue Planet Garden Susan Morrison has already opted out of the 7-Things meme, but I want you to know about her blog anyway, her message is important and the way she relays it is smart, funny & charming.

GardenPunks Katie Hobson is an amazing photographer as well as a writer; when I saw the photos she took of my garden I looked at my trusty point-and-shoot and said "why can't YOU do that?"

Gossip in the Garden Rebecca Sweet serves up fresh and funny horticultural and design advice from her own beautiful gardens, which have twice been featured in Fine Gardening magazine!

Great Stems Meredith's blog is new to me, but it had me at cantaloupes and ladybugs; the work of a true gardener and talented photographer.

Miss Rumphius' Rules Susan Cohan has already been meme'd I know, but if anything deserves some extra recognition, it is her intelligent, informative blog. It is a standard to which I aspire.

Root Awakening Lynn Felici-Gallant's photos of her New Hampshire garden are exquisite, I have borrowed several (with permission!) for my screen saver, and enjoy them every day!

The Germinatrix Ivette Soler has also been meme'd already, (and her delightful response might be even longer than mine) but I HAD to include her because I adore her every post. When I'm inclined to curb my enthusiasms, her writing reminds me that it is OK to have passion for what I do, and to not be afraid to show it!


  1. First comment was me, sorry bout that.

    Thanks for taking us through those gardens that have inspired you and made you the person and designer you are. It's fascinating to see where people come from! PS - My trick is to use a wide angle lens when shooting landscapes. :D Thanks for the tag! Now, off to think of seven things that people might find remotely interesting!...

  2. The Toronto Gardeners chose well when they asked you to share your seven MeMes, Laura. What fun it is to see you as a child, in your macrame years, and as a new mom, as you made and left gardens behind.

    Pinching the view is a cool term - no hedges or front fences allowed in my subdivision so I've been doing something like that, but it's better to have a designer's name for it!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  3. Laura - as usual, another beautifully written story by you filled with delightful phrases and intriguing images. I SO enjoyed your story and seeing the timelines of your gardens - one can definitely see how you've 'grown' (no pun intended) in your garden styles and I can't wait to see what's next!

  4. It's fun to read how people evolve into how we see them now. I much prefer your front yard without help from that sprinkler head!

  5. Thank you for the Meme. I tried to award those who hadn't been yet, and you, Ivette and Alice were already recipients! Quelle problem! I am going to follow up without swearing like a sailor!

  6. Everyone, thanks for the great comments! Susan, I don't think you need to do another meme, I just wanted to make sure that honor was paid!

    Was thinking that some folks might have been disappointed not to hear juicy personal tidbits, so here's a few:

    1) I do not like to cook for myself, so I eat like a college student. Correction, my daughter is a college student, and eats better than I do. Not sure where that leaves me...

    2) I cannot stand the taste of cilantro, I think it ruins everything it touches. It's a chemical thing, my sis and mom are the same.

    3) I have a secret ambition to be the backup singer for a rock band.

    That's enough, you'll just have to imagine the four that I just deleted ;-)

  7. Laura, thank you so much for honoring me with a MeMe award. I am very glad that you enjoy my little blog (and that you love cantaloupes and ladybugs)! But I recently received a MeMe award from another garden blogger, and I shared a bunch of "dirt" about myself then. I best pass on the award, but the thought is so very much appreciated. I truly enjoyed your walk though of the thens and nows of your gardens. Beautiful!

  8. Hi Laura - great post, and thanks for the three extra tidbits. I'm all about the juicy gossip.

    As requested, my post is up! Thanks for the nomination.

  9. I love all the gardens! We are in Tracy so not too far from you. My hubby actually works in San Jose :)

  10. Laura, it was fun seeing how your gardens and you have evolved. Tranformations ... don't you think we designers were plants in a previous life... constantly sowing our seeds and making our footprint on the world. You are so intuitive and special... its been great getting to know you.

  11. Laura, thank you for the journey — and for nominating me/me! Me, myself and I have posted our 7x7 as directed.

  12. How nostalgic...I see the pic of your macrame plant hangers and think a) of the powder blue one you made for my Creeping Charlie (or was it Pothos, or Wandering Jew?) and b) of those hippy 70s houseplant care books...what were they called...advocated classical music and lots of gathering your houseplants in the tub for a good misting.

  13. Goodness what a transformation and your home has loads of interest. Excellent curb appeal. I enjoyed your beginning to end tale of petunias to professional design. Very awesome.

  14. Hehe, for YOU Miss Kitty it must have been Creeping Charlie! And you're thinking of 'Mother Earth's Hassle-Free Indoor Plant Book' and 'Grow With Your Plants The Mother-Earth Hassle-Free Way' by Lynn & Joel Rapp...I still have them!

  15. LAURA!!!

    What a lovely post!! I was blown away several times ... and the houseplants in your teenage bedroom show just how much this life you have created for yourself has been yours all along - you are an EARTH GODDESS from way back! I love knowing that!
    Seeing the gardens that have had been formative for you is such a wonderful way to let us see a little more about yourself - what is more telling about us than what we love, and what inspires us?
    Your 'Manifesto' is fantastic - I love the contrast of the public space, which tells us about what you believe in, and the 'Red Umbrella' private space, which shows us what restores your soul. You've really showed us why gardens are important!
    And what a very sweet thing to say about me! Thank you so much for the mention - I get so much from our tweets and our communication blogger to blogger! You are one of the gardeners that has expanded my palette and my heart - so a big THANK YOU for that, too!