The Other Garden



An agave blossom festooned with pom pons thrusts itself into the sky above The Huntington Desert Garden
An agave blossom festooned with pom poms thrusts itself into the sky above The Huntington Desert Garden

A person’s relationship with a garden can be one of the most profound relationships we can have. Just as profound as the ones we have with our husbands, our wives, our children. A connection with a garden can be like the one we have with a lover – thrilling, exciting, intoxicating, sometimes even illicit and a bit surreptitious; a fling, or an affair.

I have a relationship like that with a garden, one that isn’t mine. I have to confess that for many years, I have been cheating on my garden with another garden. I love my garden with all of my heart, but things have been rough lately – we are going through some hard times, so when I’m feeling low my mind wanders and my heart is tugged toward this other garden, my mistress, my “other garden”. She is a wonder to behold – similar to my garden, but different in so many ways. She gives me things my garden can’t, and I need her desperately sometimes. Sometimes my need to see her is so intense I feel it physically; an ache, a deep pulling in my center. And I run to her.

Cheerful cassias soften the sharp teeth and hard edges of a bank of Aloes and yuccas. Skirts are kept on the tall succulents, the way I prefer!
Cheerful cassias soften the sharp teeth and hard edges of a bank of Aloes and yuccas. Skirts are kept on the tall succulents, the way I prefer!

She is older, solid and stately – but unusual, quirky, witty. She is expansive, generous, always available to her public, with layers that open up and draw me in further. Even though I know her very well, she blows my mind whenever I walk her paths. I learn new things when we spend time together, I’m often breathless and giddy because the conversation (in my head) is so fast that I am spinning. My heart beats faster, and I laugh out loud.

Of course the newcomers walking by me think I’m crazy – an unusually pale woman in a large black hat and sunglasses, cooing at the cactus and giggling at the way a particular Agave fransozinii is expressing its sense of humor with an extra swoopy undulation of it’s leaves. But only for a moment, because soon they are just as enchanted as I, exclaiming to each other, pointing, laughing loudly and sighing with the wonder of it all.

We who live in drought country don't clip boxwood balls, we plant echinocactus and mammalaria
We who live in drought country don’t clip boxwood balls, we plant echinocactus and mammalaria

That is how magnificent my garden mistress is. Everyone who meets her falls for her. We are under her spell. She is that rare thing that changes many lives, but somehow makes you feel like you are her one and only. I go home, wistful, full of thoughts and feelings, to my own garden. She is waiting patiently, ready for me whenever I might be ready for her.

Echeveria agavoides cuddles up to lava rock, as snow poles stand guard and palm trees observe from afar
Echeveria agavoides cuddles up to lava rock, as snow poles stand guard and palm trees observe from afar

My little garden and I will make it, I have no doubt. She is the center of my world. We have grown together and we take risks together, and my garden is always there for me. We mirror each other. She is the expression of who I am, right now. And I admit, she is pretty ragged around the edges, so sometimes I turn away and seek my reflection is something more pleasing, more alluring.  But we will continue to work together, and I will take the joy I have taken in another garden  and put it into us, into our relationship, and we will be stronger than ever.

Visiting this garden and walking these paths countless times over the years has been the most incredible and enjoyable education
Visiting this garden and walking these paths countless times over the years has been the most incredible and enjoyable education

Do you cheat? Tell us about your “Other Garden”!

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Ivette Soler


Fasten your seatbelts, Ranters, I hope you like riding rollercoasters! I’m Ivette Soler, a garden designer and writer who lives and works in Los Angeles, California. I have been designing since 1997, working primarily with the subtropical and succulent palette that thrives in my corner of the world. I started my blog, The Germinatrix, in 2004, and I have been enjoying a vibrant dialog with the online garden community ever sine. In 2011, Timber Press published my book “The Edible Front Yard“, in which I make the case for ridding ourselves of thirsty, dull front lawns in favor of beautiful, bountiful gardens that mix food with ornamentals. I am thrilled to be a part of this illustrious and opinionated group, and am looking forward to RANTING with all of you!

Let’s do a little speed-dating so you can get to know me better:

I am a Believer – I know that gardens and gardening can and will make this world a better place.

I am a Maximalist – I believe that more is more and more is better than less!

I am against Horticultural Xenophobia – If you believe that we must eliminate well-chosen exotics from our landscapes in favor of a natives-only palette, we might have words.

I am a Talker – I love to get into it! If you have anything you want to challenge me about, or if you want to dialog about anything I post, please comment away! My love of blogging is rooted in dialoging with a large number of passionate gardeners with diverse opinions. I will rant, and I expect you to RANT BACK

I cast a wide net – This is a big world, and I believe our gardens are more interesting when we open ourselves up to ideas other than those that come to us from the established gardening world. I am inspired by fine art, literature, product design, theatre, fashion … you get the picture. I will often bring in ideas from other areas of culture to our conversations about gardens and the way we garden.

I like exclamation points and sometimes … yes … ALL CAPS – I really talk like this!!!! I can’t help it!!!

I am eager to move the conversation about gardening and the place it has in our lives forward, so hop on, make sure you are strapped in tightly, and LET’S GO!


  1. That’s a lovely desert garden – different from other gardens showcased here but lovely nonetheless!

    • Thank you Kevin! I agree, the Huntington has many beautiful gardens in it, but the desert garden draws me like magnet. It is so unusual and gorgeous! It isn’t a classic English style garden, nor is it typical of the Mediterranean gardens we see on the West Coast – it is a thing unto itself! Otherworldly and unique – I love her!!!

  2. Yes, I cheat, and I have to confess, I am guilty of being aroused by other people’s gardens in magazines as well.

    • Oh, Filipine, you aren’t the only one aroused by Garden Porn! The magazines we hide under the sofa, or between the mattress and the box spring … yes, I know. I am one of you! Hahaha!

    • DC Tropics, I am sure others are wanting small, jewel-box gardens! Isn’t it true that we desire the thing we don’t have, maybe just because it is different? But yes, there is something about a large, grand garden that inspires deep lust in those of us who are passionate plant collectors – we just want MORE! More room means more PLANTS!!!

  3. Vegetable gardens, actually – with long rows of overflowing abundance. My own plot is small, and not especially generous. I envy those gardeners their land, their water, their time spent tending such an Eden.

    • Laura Bell, my pulse also quickens when I see images of those abundant edible gardens that belong to restaurants or small-lot farmers. What a dream! I know that I could never make such a dream reality, which is why I tend to integrate food all over my garden – but the focus and beauty of a working vegetable garden is beyond amazing!

  4. Ah yes Ivette, my dalliance is with the display borders at Digging Dog Nursery in Mendocino County. I go back again and again, take photo after photo , and try to figure out how to mold my real garden into it’s likeness. The size difference makes this of course impossible , but if I can even achieve a 3 plant combination that gives me a Digging Dog moment every day I am triumphant ! This has been going on for years. I am unrepentant. And worse still, I have cheated on Digging Dog with the Lurie Garden in Chicago , but only every couple of years . I feel this is acceptable.

    • ks I have never been to Digging Dog and I MUST go soon! I hear it is just incredible! You are lucky to be in close proximity – those of us who live close by our objects of desire get to sneak off and revel in the wonder of it all. Living close to The Huntington has made my little home garden so much better – I find motifs that I try out and I come across plants that make unresolved areas make sense. I will think of you the first time I go to Digging Dog!

  5. Hokkaido Liz

    Hello Ivette,
    When I was a child, before an entrance fee was charged, we used to go to the Huntington a lot because my father loved the cactus garden. In those days I didn’t appreciate it’s unique beauty. I prefered the Japanese garden with its camellias and azaleas and of course those gorgeous oaks.
    Now I live in Japan, in a small town in Hokkaido. When summer comes around
    I often feel stifled by the fecundity of the vegetation, especially sasa (bamboo grass), which is everywhere. I miss the drier West.
    Whenever I’m in L.A., I try to visit the Cactus Garden.
    I really enjoyed your piece on the Ojai Cemetery.

    • Hi Liz! Wow! Talk about two completely different climate experiences – how wonderful for you to experience both deeply. I understand what you mean by being overwhelmed by all the fecundity – I have felt that way in the Pacific Northwest, and I also feel a bit stifled and dizzy in the presence of forest trees. It makes me think I need to spend more time in those environments and figure out my discomfort. I, like you, wasn’t always a lover of the dry, cactus and succulent aesthetic – it was a slow, creeping burn for me. Once I caught fire, I was ablaze! I’m glad you liked the post on the cemetery in Ojai, I’m going to be spending a month there later on this year and I know I will be visiting that spot again and again. It was just one of those places where you could feel your heart getting a little deeper. Thanks for your comment! I really love hearing from Ranters in far-flung locales!

  6. Here in our lovely home in Tallahassee FL with trees galore — including three gigantic oaks in just the front yard — I long for sun to grow a few healthy veggies.

  7. I am a polygardener – I have a public garden I manage and one at home. I don’t have time for another mistress, but I sure do enjoy looking!

  8. Yes, I love to visit public gardens. I spent a year in England and visited as many gardens as I could. That is not why I am writing.

    I am writing about using the adultery metaphor. Adultery is a huge problem for many people. It causes much suffering and affects whole families, not just the couple. This article’s light attitude towards adultery increases the difficulty for those who are trying to overcome the temptations and the effects of this vow-breaking.

    Please think about it instead of just reacting. Would you use racism as a light hearted metaphor? Why this, then.

    • Erin, thank you for your comment.
      If you thought I used the terms “mistress” and “other woman” in an unmindful way, please let me tell you that I thought about this very carefully. I used the metaphor deliberately and with intention.
      There is a big conversation going on right now about “trigger warnings”, and that is part of the issue you bring up. Maybe you would have appreciated a “trigger warning” on this post. I would have still written it exactly as I did. It is not the job of a writer to self-censor because someone may have a problem with subject matter – any reader is free to stop reading and find something to engage with that is less tricky for them. What is difficult for one person is liberating for another, what makes one person weep inconsolably with grief will make someone else cry tears of joy. It is unreasonable to ask me to self-censor because of an individual’s reaction – there are simply too many reactions to any number of topics, and writers shying away from those topics creates an environment of nullification and fear. I reject that. I write freely, but mindfully – and it is important for readers of The Rant to know that about me. I write as I will, how I will, and I will most assuredly trigger people with a variety of topics and with the way I tangle with those topics. I will not change that – it is the reason I write. I am not in this game to write easy, pleasant essays about how great flowers and gardens are – I am interested in a different kind of expression and dialog, and it might be uncomfortable for some. But it hits home for many.
      To assume that this metaphor was easy or lighthearted for me may be an assumption in error. Consider that.
      And I often bring racism into my writing about native plants, by the way. So I guess the answer to that question is yes, but there is nothing lighthearted about it. I don’t write with a light heart – it may seem like I do, but in fact I write with quite a bit of thought and urgency.
      Thanks again for your comment. If this post made you uncomfortable, you may want to skip my offerings in the future – there are many other amazing writers on Garden Rant that you will enjoy! All the best to you.

  9. Very fun post using the metaphor of mistress. Happy for you that you get such satisfaction from another garden. I will admit I don’t feel the intensity you do for another garden. I admire, visit, and learn from many gardens, but true love is reserved for my garden. That probably means I’m a bit of a narcissist, but aren’t all gardeners?

    • Amy Murphy, I think your devotion to your own garden means that you are constant, faithful, deep, and have a vision that extends beyond the moment. How lovely! I like that very much! The way we feel about our garden can be a litmus for the way we approach the biggest relationships in our lives, I think – but that could be because I love to make oracles out of everything. I’m that kind of person – for example, I have a book called “Extraordinary Chickens, and one night I had friends over for a cocktail party and I devised a new game : Chicken Tarot! People flip through the book and randomly land on a page, and that chicken is who they are. SUCH FUN – and remarkably on point. So pretty much anything can be an oracle if you have the right interpreter (that’s ME!)

  10. Ivette, I too have enjoyed your other lover… One of the best I’ve ever had!
    Adultery happens because there’s SO much pleasure in it! Maybe it’s the decadent enjoyment of something that gives itself freely without requiring ownership… A portrait of a woman in a gallery brings pleasure to the anonymous viewer that the husband who commissioned the portrait could never experience!
    There’s a book in this , maybe. “Other People’s Gardens”.

    • David Mcmullin, as usual, you and I are of one mind! Yes to everything you said – I especially love the image of the portrait, and the desire of the viewer. There is a contract there, in the display of something so enticing, how can we not fall head over heels? The husband / owner develops a kind of sangfroid due to familiarity, but we are breathless with longing!
      And I agree about the book … hmmmm….

  11. I’ve had an ongoing affair with Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, PA. IAs – start my 2+ hour drive my heart races and thoughts wander all the way down the turnpike, and I’m never disappointed by my visit.

  12. No wonder you are a gardener, Yvette 🙂 Fun piece!

    This garden does look stunning, so I understand the allure! It is also very different from what I grew up with and tend to bond with (you can guess my origin from my posting name!). But I think I had a similar experience visiting the botanical gardens in Oslo, Norway. Totally blown away with the abundance/fragility of it all. To think that these colors and textures emerge for such a short time, then lay under snow and darkness until next year… And the light in Scandinavia in June is just a thing of its own, too.

  13. Related thought… cheating is perhaps forgiven, since you keep coming back to ‘your’ garden. But when you move… and leave your babies and companions behind. That feels awful!

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