Winter Letter from Craig

During this dormant time of reflection, I have been contemplating what The Art of Fine Gardening really represents in today’s growing world. The phrase has been the mantra of our company since our inception in 1981, but in this tireless era of societal rush, I find it to be the guiding light more pertinent to my approach in the garden than before. My goal for the garden, while linking the home to the land and the plant to the place, is for elements to align and transcend to art. Collaborating with people and nature, the garden becomes an experience, a destination for both mind and body, and ultimately a source for inspiration and abandon. As we look forward towards the potential of the garden in the upcoming year, now is the time to take a moment and reflect on why we must remain mindful of tradition, history, and practice, and then maybe being more referential to the past will lead us towards following a more purposeful and sustainable life in the garden.

The popular catch phrases of green, sustainableorganic, and repurposed are in reality a return to an earlier era and the beliefs of an earlier generation. If one lives a natural life, don’t all of these practices become almost effortless? I once saw a bumper sticker that read: Be Green, Buy Antiques. It seems only natural to me to treasure things that have lasted for years because they were conceived and crafted of great ideas and materials. Simulation is just that – an imitation. In our house, we love real wood “brown” furniture that is hand-crafted as functional works of art, and I find myself remaining ever-mindful to apply that concept to our gardens.

In an effort to capitalize on the aging character of our gardens, I am working towards localizing herbaceous plantings to defined areas and letting the beauty of woody plants stand on their own. Filling every inch under and around shrubs in borders is so labor intensive to maintain and to nurture long term as the plants mature. This growth also brings about changes in both the light levels and moisture access for the smaller plants. I find myself using more brambling, creeping, rhizomatous shrubs that do the work of the shrub and the ground cover in one. Thus, the Salix, Deutzia, Rhus, Rosa, and Contoneaster groups are becoming more prominent in our planting plans.

“Less is more” in my efforts to reduce long-term maintenance. Leaving empty spaces in herbaceous planting beds makes room for volunteers or seasonal annuals, and it keeps the hardy plants less crowded and less disease-prone. Planting hedges on wider spacing to let growth happen will also reduce disease issues, as well as the need to excessively prune. This strategy will literally add years to the life and health of the plant, and is yet another green practice put in place with its roots in an earlier time. To be sure, it is a novel idea in today’s world of immediate gratification.

My reflections on the build out of the Gardens at 900 have revealed the good, the bad, and the ugly. I find myself more accustomed to reviewing others’ gardens, but tackling my own personal garden has not been as easy. I always seem to think I will remember what the problems are each season, but that is sadly not the case. This year, I am taking many more photos for my future reference, which helps a great deal. Also, in year’s past if a plant component was struggling, I would quickly try something else without stopping to figure out the real problem. Now, as I’ve learned to settle into my garden, I am trying things repeatedly to discover why it was unsuccessful. Sometimes the simplest tweak in getting a plant established will make all the difference in its thriving. Maybe I am maturing as a gardener, or perhaps I’m trying to justify yet another effort in the name of “the garden needs it”. Either way, I feel headway is accumulating for our next 10-year care program for the gardens.

A critical part of that progressive care program for our gardens moving forward is shifting to a more organic approach. Switching our lawn care over to an organic regime has been one of our best decisions. The dog’s skin allergies went away, our seasonal allergies seem to be less volatile, and our old trees and shrubs seem much more stable when assessing their needs and health.

Next year we are going organic for our rose care. Time will tell whether the populations of aphids and Japanese beetles can be controlled by use of IPM practices and even more scrutiny to catch issues in the early stages. I’ve noticed that the mere act of defoliating the shrubs roses of 6” of the basal foliage before the 4th of July has done wonders for controlling black spot fungus. Now the challenge is to control white fly, scale and mealy bugs – our worst nuisance offenders.

Our compost pile is not as large as it should be, but it allows us to recycle our kitchen organic waste and garden cutbacks in order to generate our vegetable garden soil. This helps with “organic in, organic out” for our garden, our table, and our animal companions – all within the confines of our own home.

Striving to lead a ‘greener’ life and working more closely with nature in mind can only enhance our garden experiences and strengthen this most inspirational source. The garden has taught me that the keys to my happiness are love, dogs, and the natural world – and what a joy it is to share these blessings with those I spend time.

I wish you all a good, reflective, dormant time in your garden.

Craig Bergmann
RLA, ASLA, Proprietor