Gardens of the 1 Percenters


Way back in ’06 I wrote about Rich People’s Gardens and defended “checkbook gardeners” who pay other people to make their landscapes look gorgeous.   Better to spend their megabucks on gardens than on fast cars!  I urged the wealthy to go ahead and hire the best, as long as they opened their gardens to us real gardeners occasionally.    I even promised I wouldn’t ask if it was all paid for with “drug money or Enron-style accounting tricks”.

Well, I recently toured some grand gardens in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside. D.C., and must confess that uppermost in my mind all day was:  Just where did these people get all this money??  I managed to refrain from actually asking them, but just barely.

Take, for example, the home shown above and in the first three photos below.  In the middle of prime real estate, this property covered several acres and included not just one sprawling residence but the out-building below, which I assumed was a guest house but soon discovered is a second garage to hold the owner’s collection of race cars.  Goes to show that people with enough money don’t have to choose between great gardens and fast cars at all!  Silly me, thinking like the 99 percenter that I am.

Money also buys great outdoor art.


Pools are de rigeur in this climate.

But there’s more to consider in these extraordinary gardens than the vast wealth of their owners – they also have great taste!  Or the good sense to choose designers with great taste.  Whichever it is, their gardens, so unlike my own in scale and budget, managed to teach me some lessons in design and plant choice that I can use on my own tiny lot.   Like the oakleaf hydrangeas so effectively massed in the top photo.  Or the sophisticated choice of plants lining the waterfall below.

Or, in the front garden below, the no-holds-barred massings of easy perennials and the simple path of stepping stones bisecting the generously sized border.  Even the porch furniture is catching my eye, as my own porch is close to completion and I’ll be shopping for  furniture soon.

Next, one of my favorite scenes is this shady side yard with Mazus-lined field stones surrounded by hydrangeas and shade-loving perennials.  I’ll be emulating this in my new backyard garden with its dappled sunlight.

Below you see another generous pond (also seemingly de rigeur in gardens of a certain size) but notice the line of tall grasses?  They’re used to surround a large swimming pool to great effect.  Nice beachy feel, and plenty of privacy, with no annoying leaf-dropping to contend with.

Another feature I admired is the stream shown below, which runs between the curbside garden and front yard of another large property that had been plagued with water problems for decades, thanks to an underground spring.  Some smart designer came up with this solution to managing water that manages to be stunning too.  No concrete culvert here!

More evidence that good designers are worth every dime they make?  This grove of river birches and Nandinas in a bed of hostas lining the shady side of the house.

Finally, the last scene is from the garden of two expert gardeners who, though successful, probably aren’t in the 1 percent.  They’re Holly Shimizu, director of the U.S. Botanic Garden and her husband, landscape designer Osamu Shimizu.  Their small garden includes a moss meditation garden, a sizable bronze fountain and a fabulous assortment of interesting plants, but the highlight for me was the HUGE pond and waterfall that are seen below a large, inviting porch.  No mere water feature; more like total commitment to water in this woodland setting.  Who needs to fight traffic getting to the beach?

Thanks to Brookside Gardens for the fabulous tour!


  1. Lovely! Yes, I agree, if people have crazy amounts of disposable income please spend it like this. And open your gardens occasionally to us 99 percenters so we can appreciate the beauty. Great post. Thanks for the pics and comments.

  2. Lovely indeed, and I hope they open their gardens for the Open Days tours. But more lovely in my opinion are the gardens of ordinary people. I think part of the success of the Buffalo Garden Walks is that most of the homes and gardens on view are those of the 99%. They inspire me in ways that are attainable for someone with a limited budget and no garden staff to order about.

  3. It would be nice to have that kind of money, but we all are able to make pretty stunning gardens with our meager resources too. That’s half the fun for me, making a garden look fantastic with cuttings/dividings from friends and late season nursery stock close outs.

  4. The tour of the gracious gardens should be a reminder that a] we have never ever lived in an egalitarian society no matter what we were taught in school and b] our unfettered social system allows all the deserved who persevere and succeed to share in the wealth that our society provides. A free economy rewards the clever, the innovative, the risk takers, the very talented as well as the ingenious criminals. However, that freedom of social mobility also guarantees people a certain measure of privacy. Therefore, where and how the 1% generate their wealth is none of our business.

  5. iirc, the Shimizu garden was featured in a book on children’s gardens, with an adorable photo of one of the kids floating toy boats in the water and comments about how the kids didn’t feel deprived when they took out the lawn because the garden offered more interesting things to do.

  6. Lovely gardens. Looks to me like what the 1%-ers are paying for is, largely, time: The time (and labor) to put in and maintain extensive gardens, and more mature plants and trees that the rest of us have to buy smaller and wait to grow bigger and fill in. Also, they pay more for hardscape, pools and art. But anyone who loves to garden would enjoy designing, planting and nurturing a landscape themselves, with many of the same plants seen in these pictures, and a little imagination can go a long way in the hardscape and art departments.

    Inspiration comes from everywhere!

  7. Allan, I couldn’t disagree with you more. The degree of inequality in this society is far greater than it was a generation ago, with very negative results for millions of working families.

    As to the gardens – yes they are beautiful, and as there will always be rich people, I am entirely in favor of their spending their money on beautiful gardens.

  8. They are lovely and there are definitely ideas we 99%-ers can glean from these gardens, but what I enjoy seeing even more are the gardens of the 1% who use their own creativity in their gardens.

  9. Susan:
    admired…the stream shown below, which runs between the curbside garden and front yard of another large property that had been plagued with water problems for decades, thanks to an underground spring. Some smart designer came up with this solution to managing water that manages to be stunning too.

    In our Santa Cruz house, there was an unfortunately placed downspout at the front of the house, under which a giant mayo or pickle jar was placed. Em, useless, not going to retard any damage to the foundation for standing water.

    Even before we discovered that the hardscape “rock clutter” hid fertile soil, I was going to have a “dry creekbed” installed. Once the good soil was discovered, the creekbed was laid out in a meander, from the downspout to the curb, at a very gentle angle. Then we started setting up the drip lines to the roses, putting down weedcloth, planting the roses, and adding “gorilla hair” mulch to keep the weeds out. The creekbed meandering through the roses looked great during the dry times, and was useful during our wet winters. I think it might have been easier and cheaper than a French drain.

  10. Sorry, I couldn’t bear reading about the gardens of the 1%ers after a few paragraphs. Where did they get the money? From us! Outsourcing our jobs to China, India, Mexico; the war machine; big oil/chem/pharma, etc. They pay 14% taxes (if that!), we pay double. All those thousands of dollars that we pay extra every year goes into their luxurious (and wasteful) lives while we have to worry how we are going to send our children to college and scrape by in old age. I figured out recently that my higher tax rate would pay for a year of my daughter’s college every year–but instead we have to take out loans and get a little further into debt. Frankly, their posh gardens in this horrible economy (no doubt created with the help of illegal immigrants) where so many other Americans are struggling is sickening.

  11. The “99/1% ” vocabulary that has sprung up recently is so divisive. There will always be rich and poor and I guarantee you most of those folks are in a higher tax bracket than those of us in the middle/working class. I look at those gardens and I see all the sculptors, nurseries, stonemasons, designers, etc, who are able to stay in business because some people with money are willing to pay those folks for quality work.

  12. There has always been rich and poor, that is not America’s problem. The problem is that the middle class has taken a beating for the last 30 years at the expense of a very few. There has not been this income gap since the stock market crash of ’29. We should NOT bow down and be thankful we have jobs, we should strive for fairness (–in translation, every American pay THEIR FAIR SHARE) so those sculptors, nurseries, stonemasons, etc., can have a wider range of clientele and increase the amount of those in their trades. So that their children can carry on in these trades if they desire to.

  13. I used to live in and walk dogs in a neighborhood of one-percenters. What bugs me about their gardens is (1) the excessive use of poisons to keep the landscape looking pristine, (2) the reliance on relatively low-paid immigrant labor to apply the poisons, often without protection, (3) the sameness of most of their front yards — not much creativity or risk-taking where plants are concerned, (4) lack of awareness of what’s appropriate in a summer-dry climate, and using far more than their fair share of water, (5) the dearth of useful plants — very few fruit trees, and almost no medicinal plants (or if they are planted, the landscape has been sprayed so much that they’re unsafe to use), and (6) those great big yards were rarely used!

    The one-percenters I knew were tightfisted when it came to the landscape. They saw their yards as exterior decoration in need of basic maintenance. Even though they did not hesitate to spend $100 for lunch or thousands for an outfit or piece of custom furniture, when it came to the landscape, they felt cheated if they were not paying a bare minimum.

    Of course, I also know a handful of great one-percenter gardens, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

  14. I make my living creating these gardens for others. For me, they are just as, if not more satisfying, than my own. I get to create a place of peace and beauty with someone else’s checkbook and then oversee the maintenance program without having to do it myself. I have no envy and seldom ask what they do for a living. It’s none of my business. I never question the motivation or the means to create something beautiful.

  15. Artists (garden designers/craftsmen) need patrons. It has always been so. There is no Michaelangelo without the Medici, no Jeff Koons without a Wall Street class.

    The relationship between artists and patrons has always been a tentative one. Does the patronage influence the originality of the art? Is that influence appropriate? Those questions are the most interesting to me.

    Gardens require time, money, or both. So in my mind, it’s an extravagence whether its a million dollar designer garden or an amateur garden grown from seed packets. The question for me is this: is the garden an extravagence of wealth? Or an extravagence of love? The latter is the game I’m after.

  16. These gardens are absolutely magnificent and they totally capture your attention. People who have them are very lucky but we are lucky too (I mean everyone who has the ability to have a piece of landscape-garden). As we can see in our word there are all over the place ”social disparities” and I believe for the gardens it’s pretty much the same. Every one can make day by day a wonderful surrounding. Everyone can make day by day, a wonderful surrounding for him and for his beloved people if he has the patience and persistence. Despite the money I know many people who have made great gardens, by using their love and passion for the plants. To be honest, one thing that I really jealous is the pond and the waterfall because these are the only things that I am afraid I will never have in my home 😉

  17. Love the pool and covered cabana area! Also I love overgrown paths that lead to an old gate. Great shots! Super fun post and I love the images!

  18. Lovely! I like the: “I even promised I wouldn’t ask if it was all paid for with “drug money or Enron-style accounting tricks.” And yes, instead of those sports cars, why not indulged in a beautiful garden. Put some of your money to beautify the place and contribute in saving the environment. I also like the pool and the cabanas! Thanks for sharing. Cheers!

  19. If you know of any stupidly rich people in the Asheville area that want to spend a few grand on cool edible landscaping, I love to know about them. My brother’s new edible landscaping business could sure use the business. While the 1% make more than they should, my brother’s business makes less than it should. Check out their good work here: and if you see anything that one of your rich Asheville friends might want…

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