Monday, November 26, 2012

Garden Designer's Roundtable: Memorable Plants

Today, the Garden Designers Roundtable will explore the power of plants and memory. Plants have a way of triggering memories and emotions that run through our lives like a stream of film clips — memories of a special time, a favorite place, or a beloved person; it could be the plant itself, its color, fragrance, or even its form.  Sometimes your "trigger" plants are not your favorite plants at all; the thoughts they evoke may not be pleasant ones, but they are part of your history and your reality.

flowering crab, Malus spp
For me, flowering crab apples are a touchstone in time. Their flowery splendor in mid-April coincides with my peak business season (and my birthday!).  I see them everywhere as I bustle around the city, and the over-the-top opulence of flowers (for whatever reason) reminds me to slow down. To enjoy. To be grateful.

tree peony, Paeonia spp
This tree peony is the only one I own. It was given to me many years ago by a gardening friend. Though we rarely connect these days, I think of my dramatic, clever, and generous friend whenever I see it.

rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus nauseosus nauseosus
I associate rabbitbrush with the West, and my memories of many wonderful vacations exploring the high, dry foothills of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. This shrub is ubiquitous throughout the region — probably considered a weed by some.  Its cheery yellow, late summer blooms herald the end of summer and  the beautiful fall weather to come.  This dwarf rabbitbrush in my garden reminds me of the places I love every time I look out my window (and I'm seein' youTaos!).

common lilac, Syringa vulgaris
When I meet with a new design client I always ask them if they have a favorite plant that I could try and incorporate into the design.  One of the most frequent requests — a hands-down favorite — is lilac. The fragrance from these flowers, which last a mere ten days or so in mid-spring, is something that people associate with childhood and wherever they call "home". (And perhaps the delicious anticipation of summer vacation on the near horizon!)  It really doesn't matter that lilacs are so blah the rest of the year; for those who love the fragrance and the memories it brings, it's worth it.

Colorado blue spruce, Picea pungens
On a few occasions I've been asked to include a "Christmas tree" in the planting plan. Many people love the holiday season and want that visual reminder year-round.
"What kind of tree would that be?" I ask. "A fir or a spruce?  A pine?"
"You know!" they respond,  "The one like this!"   ::hands and arms forming a triangle::
I feel like Linus to their Lucy in  A Charlie Brown Christmas:

The heart wants what the heart wants.

Please join my fellow members of the Garden Designers' Roundtable for more on memory and plants:


Unknown said...

"The heart wants what the heart wants." That's probably the best summary of why I select the random plants I end up selecting. I try to pretend my choices are logical, but it's really just love, isn't it? Enjoyable post, Jocelyn.

Mary Gray said...

Your comment about the tree peony from your friend struck a chord in me. I have a few plants in my garden that were giveaways from friends and clients, and I find they are some of the plants I am most attached to. I have a tiny paw paw sapling that a client gave me, and it is struggling in my yard. I can't bring myself to rip it out, though, because the client's original tree was grown from seed by her late husband. She told me about how they collected the seed from trees on the C&O canal when they were very young. When a plant has a story like that, I don't dare rip it out!3

Panayoti Kelaidis said...

I have grown many thousands of plants in my day, and most of them seem to have a human connection (which as a plant nerd I almost resent). Crabapples (such a dreadful name for such heavenly trees) are transcendent: I have hundreds of memories they evoke...there was a spot between two crabapples in the park next to my house where a red admiral butterfly would come wheeling and dancing and reeling every year of my childhood. I still go down to that spot (the crabapples are still there 55 years later) and I occasionally still find the butterfly there. My moments there with the red admiral are among my very sweetest memories, all the more so because they recur--hopefully forever.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Thanks, Thomas. Yes, I think an important part of my work is helping people create the garden/landscape that THEY want.

Mary --- I agree, it's tough to ditch any plant that has a strong personal association.

Panayoti, I'm glad I'm not the only one that has a fond appreciation for the ubiquitous crab!

susan morrison said...

These posts have my thoughts going in unexpected directions. Doctors, vets and the like must practice compassionately, but also have to develop a thick skin and avoid sentimentality or they'll go crazy. Thank goodness we garden designers can wallow in our emotions and become attached to the plants, yet still be effective at our jobs!

Andrew Keys said...

Yep, the heart leads the trowel way more than people realize! You win for posting Linus and Lucy. (One of my all-time favorites.)

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Susan, you are so right --- we can be as indulgent as we (or our clients) wish --- it's "artistic licence" and completely legit!

Andrew, I would bet that Linus and Lucy scene to win against any other comic bit any time, any where. Glad you agree!

Desert Dweller said...

Memories - crabapples on my late parents' street in Aurora will always stick in my mind, same thing in mid or late April. I also remember seeing certain plants in Denver, then different plants in other, different places we'd travel...telling me "I'm not home anymore"...the yuccas, or trees flowering in mid-March in Abq, all come to mind...that's before I got into plants.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

David --- travel/plant associations are very strong for me as well, and they needn't be super exotic, sometimes it's just the way they're used (I have daffodils, but London has DAFFODILS!.

Pam/Digging said...

The heart does lead the way when it comes to gardening, especially where fragrance is concerned. If it smells like our childhood memory of home, we're going to want it, no matter what.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

I agree with you, Pam! The smell of a total environment — forest, seashore, etc. — is pretty hard to replicate, but incorporating just a few of those fragrances can really make a garden special.

Unknown said...

Its really very nice sharing .
Thanks for the same.
garden design Toowoomba

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