Is there anyone who truly gardens alone? Although we hear the first person singular used almost exclusively in posts and comments on Garden Rant (and many other blogs), I’m willing to bet that behind almost every “I” there’s another he, she, or even they who bear some measure of responsibility for the garden in question. And even if one lives alone, there are friends and neighbors who help, advise, or otherwise influence for good or ill.
It’s fun—and helpful—to have a partner to garden with, or even a whole family. It can also be a delicate balance. Just as it would be absurd to assume that sharing a house means sharing the same ideas of how to design the interior, it’s equally unlikely that people who live together would always agree about exterior improvements and alterations.
In A Garden Gallery, a book about sculptors David Lewis and George Little, and the well-known Bainbridge Island garden and art business they share, Lewis says “I would like to imagine that it is a beautiful balance of give and take, compromise, and lovingly granting the wishes and vision of that other person. In reality, it is often stubborn reluctance, quiet moping or raised voices among the plants we love.”
As for Vita Sackville West and Harold Nicolson, according to West she did her best to upset the formality of his designs for garden beds while at the same time respecting his overall concept. “Creative tension,” she called it.
In the less rarified aesthetic air of the gardens and gardeners I know in Western New York, there are a few major causes for discord in the domestic landscape. Number one, at least as far as I’m concerned, is expense. The way I’ve solved this is to quietly accept that I will have to devote a good percentage of my personal income to buying the amount of plants and bulbs that I think are necessary—but which many other people, including the person I live with, would consider insanely excessive. There are many other areas where expense can be a factor, but no need to enumerate them—we’ve all been there.
Another area has to do with individual concepts of a shared garden. I often hear from friends that the person they garden with loves the lawn more than they do, or is attached to certain trees, or that one person yearns after certain plants that the other person hates. This is where the “creative tension” comes in, as each partner learns how far to push the envelope.
The best partnerships I hear about are those where one person takes care of a whole aspect of landscaping—like building furniture, or putting up fences, and the other has complete responsibility for planting. This was often the case in the interviews I did for the Garden Walk book, and it’s the category into which I fall. My husband is totally in charge of setting up the watering system (and watering much of the time), lighting, and such hardscaping as is not carried out by contractors. I do the plants. We still have to agree about major design choices (and don’t always). A recent decision to have a water feature turned out to be the only thing we agreed on—much discussion and compromise was necessary before we could finalize exactly what form that feature would actually take. But now it’s in, and we both love it.
All’s well that ends well. This time.