“Nature rewards the bold”


IMG_1475The quote comes from the last words of a recent essay by Umberto Pasti in the New York Times. Many of you will also recognize his inspiration—Fortune favors the brave, a Latin proverb that’s been used as the motto of regiments, clans, battleships, and many other entities. However you say it, I like it as a gardening motto. As Pasti describes it in the essay, it’s pretty much been my gardening methodology. I’ve tried plants I love in the wrong places, took them out and tried again, and basically recreated and revised as the years went on, following a cycle of failure, success, and survival.  I’ve always enjoyed my garden for what it is—messy, sometimes weedy, overgrown where I have favorable conditions, undergrown where I have shade and roots.

IMG_1498None of these things are true of Marion Jarvie’s well-kept garden in Thornhill, north of Toronto. We visited it as part of last week’s garden bloggers get-together. Jarvie is a plantswoman and her garden is a specimen garden; i.e., there are many single examples of specific cultivars (one of each rather than many of one). Jarvie is also a collector, who focuses on types of dwarf conifers, Japanese maples, and other small trees, as well as many, many varieties of interesting perennials. Most plants are labeled. The colors I remember are reds and yellows, and retained an impression of feathery and grassy textures contrasting with compact, thick plant profiles.

IMG_1496 (1)Though her garden is hardly “abandoned” to nature, I still like Pasti’s motto for Jarvie. She has been very bold in gathering so many different plants in one garden and she’s been rewarded in that she makes it work. Colors and textures contrast and complement everywhere you look. An informal pond in the center of the back garden provides a respite and a gathering place; there’s also a pergola, pathways, and higher levels of plantings in the back of the garden. It is not a huge space, as gardens go, but walking it is an exploration, with discoveries everywhere. I found them delightful.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. All I could think about in that garden was another quote…’Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’. It was the complete testament to one person’s personal odyssey into plant lust and the vision to plant what she loved in a way that made some sense which is what made it extraordinary. I didn’t love it, but could totally appreciate the journey.

    • She was such an interesting gardener, and I totally appreciated her passion for plants; I didn’t appreciate the un-natural look of her garden, though.

      • What a garden! Lisa and I had a long discussion about this garden. Seems that there were many who loved it and many who didn’t. I fell in the didn’t camp simply because it was too chaotic for me. I didn’t find it to be calming and soothing…the very things I seek in the refuge of a garden. That said, I am amazed at the sheer number of different plants that she has collected. It is indeed a collector’s garden.

  2. Marion’s garden is an excellent example of a collector’s garden – what she does, she does very well, and in a (relatively) small space. It is, however, a devil to photograph in the high-contrast of midday. Some gardens are captured better in the mind than through the eye of the camera.

  3. A great post on Marion’s garden. She is so very interesting to chat with too! I think I would have enjoyed her garden more on a cloudy day sans people, sitting there having a cup of tea with her and talking about plants! The bright sunshine, overwhelming color and loads of fellow bloggers was too much for me. I am enjoying it more through your lens and with your description. Thank you for the link to Umberto Pasti essay. That really resonated with me! Saving both!

  4. First, I LOVE your observation on your own garden, which reflects mine. Whew: I feel better.

    And yes, this garden went for the bold. Even though I can’t grow most of those plants, what I brought home is her dotting the same color throughout to unite the whole. I keep TRYING to do that, and sometimes, I’m just dang lucky about it.

    And, wish I’d met you that day! What a whirl that day was. And you did a good job of photos: never would we take pictures in our gardens in that kind of light!

  5. If gardening often leans into the land of obsession, then Marion Jarvie’s garden is a full-on psychedelic tilt-a-whirl tripping the light fantastic.

    I too, was a little in awe by the horticultural feat of gathering an encyclopaedia of plants on the head of a pin.

    That said, with so many fireworks blasting off all at once, I had absolutely no idea where to look.

    My favourite part was a quiet grouping of Adiantum venustum ferns hiding under her front stoop.

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