Control Amidst Chaos

There is no control in a garden, by humans, anyway. It is merely an illusion, and a temporary one at that. But try we must.

Above: An unknown lily appears in the midst of the human pruned Japanese maple ‘Crimson Queen’.

The need to be in charge is stronger in some, to direct the goings on around us. It helps beat back the fears of helplessness in a vast universe. It is inborn, that need, and cannot be dismissed, only managed.

Above: Under the deck, a neat row of calla lilies, Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘Flame’ and ‘Naomi Campbell’.

Arranging plants in a certain way and keeping them like that allows for an island of reassurance amidst a sea that is ever changing, ever flowing, ever…growing.

Above: The daylily hill corner is a permanent planting, finally, with Crimson Queen, Hosta ‘Sunpower’, Stipa tenuissima and the growing glass art collection. (Thanks to Lynn and Semi!)



When this incarnation of Fairegarden was first planted, (click here to read the whole story), it had been cleared of the chaotic wilderness that carpeted the steep slope by a backhoe. The decaying fruit trees, with accompanying hornet’s nests, the twinings of honeysuckle, poison ivy, multiflora rose, wild grapevine and privet that had been battled with hand tools and chainsaws for several years was finally defeated when the big guns were hired. Trucks filled with mulch were driven across neighbor’s lots to dump their loads at the top of the hill. Strong men pitched the mulch down the hillside in a thick layer. It was the proverbial blank slate, albeit a hilly one.

Swirling around in the cerebrum was the idea of an English style knot garden on the flat area at the top of the property, surrounded by a boxwood hedge, neat as you please. Control epitomized. Drawings on graph paper were done. String on stakes marked out the sections. Old bricks outlined the quadrants and the center quatrefoil, a shape chosen to resemble a four leaf clover for good luck and to signify North, South, East and West. There was a bench and a shed. (Photo: April 2008) It was good.

Small shrubs of Buxus ‘Wintergreen’, (there seems to be some disagreement about the species name so I am leaving it off here), were added around the perimeter. Years passed. Gravel was added to the paths between the planted areas and later the planted areas, as well. The chosen inhabitants were constantly changing as deaths occurred until a cease fire was declared between Nature and Gardener with creeping thymes and spring and summer bulbs being the main players. The hedge grew and was regularly trimmed. (January 2010) It was still good.

A trip to England in 2010 planted the seed of dissatisfaction with the green outline of the knot garden after seeing the creative prunings of Great Dixter. How to achieve a more interesting, yet maintainable by an aging wielder of the clippers, design was played with, tweaked and finally came to fruition. (August 2011) It is getting better.

And so it is, that little bit of control amidst the chaos exists. And now, dear readers, it is time to do some more controlling. The recycled plastic tablecloth with a couple of tears in it will be spread to catch the trimmings in the interior portion. The rest of the trimmings will be left as a weed suppressing, woody mulch. Fire up the electric, but still quite heavy for weak, skinny arms, machine and let’s go.

Above: The boxwood hedge is half trimmed, as much as can be done in one day by the gardener. This is as good as it gets.
To read more about the knot garden
To read about the finial topped stakes


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18 Responses to Control Amidst Chaos

  1. I love that hedge. It makes me want one, too. Really, that is a beautiful garden you have created. Love it. I will one day hopefully see it in person.

    Hi Carol, thanks. I really do love the neat and orderly feel that the hedge offers a wild and crazy garden. I hope you can come visit someday!

  2. gail says:

    I love the Knot Garden; it’s marvelous to sit up there and see the beauty you have created. The inspiration for the curves might have been Great Dixter, but, you are responsible for the marvelous execution. xoxogail

    Thanks Gail. I love when you are here and can sit up there with me to look out over the rooftop. Great Dixter was an inspiration and Taurean determination kept working on the cutting of this hedge to finally achieve the curves.

  3. Laurrie says:

    The evolution of your knot garden is so rewarding, You had a vision, you tried different things, and it all came together. The last photo is beautiful. Your hedges may take work each year but they are the reason the little garden sings in its space at the top of the hill.

    Hi Laurrie, thank you for those sweet words. The knot garden does give me great pleasure in all seasons. Getting the hedge trimmed it quite a chore, the bending over the get the sides done especially. Having it done, for a while, gives incentive to improve some of the other plantings up there. A good thing.

  4. Layanee says:

    Your vision has become a reality. I would love to sit on that bench in the knot garden and discuss plants with you. Well, plants, life and a joke or two. It is a lovely garden.

    Hi Layanee, thanks. It would be divine for you to sit and joke around on the knot garden bench with me. An open invitation is extended, come anytime. This is one spot that is pretty every single day of the year, thanks in part to the boxwood hedge.

  5. Rose says:

    I remember what a thrill it was to see your knot garden; it was as if I had already visited it many times through your photos here. It’s such a beautiful place, the perfect spot to rest and look over all that you have accomplished, Frances. I like that even though it’s much more formal than the rest of your garden, there are still some free-spirited plants here that give it that “Faire” touch.

    I think your title could be my theme song these days–parts of my garden have turned into a free-for-all with so many volunteers and self-seeders. I’ve given up on perfection, just trying to keep the chaos somewhat under control:)

    Hi Rose, thanks so much for taking the time to come down and visit my garden. I loved having you all. I would love to see your wild space, too! Free spirits, the garden is full of them, animal, vegetable and mineral! Control is an illusion, only Nature has the final say in what grows and what doesn’t. We are but the pawns, doing her bidding. HA

  6. One of the things I so love about gardening is how there is no one right way for something to look. There are infinite possibilities. I see the appeal of the trimmed hedge and, at this moment in time, it seems like the perfect way to frame the knot garden. However, 5 years from now, you could decide to return to a looser, more casual appearance for the hedge and that would seem very fitting also! Yay, it’s up to us, the gardener, with our vision and whatever our flagging muscles and energy (or $$ to hire strong arms and backs) can manage.
    The serendipity of the vibrant orange lily popping up to say hello in the midst of the more subdued Japanese maple is quite fun.
    I love seeing the photos of the evolution of your garden and am off to click on the links of previous postings.

    Hi Michaele, thanks so much. You are so right, there are no rules in a garden, and even the tentative rules we make for ourselves are subject to change. Thank goodness! When I saw that there was a lily poking up under the maple, I was trying to remember what might have been planted there. I sort of remembered a nice pink one from the grocery store. Then when it bloomed the brightest possible orange, I just had to laugh. I hope you enjoy the old posts!

    Wow, what a fun and interesting saga the first link took me to…the perfect way to spend some time on a rainy day while waiting for the zucchini bread to finish baking. I really identified with the adventure of civilizing your hillside. My husband and I also tackled such a project and got very well acquainted with the vigorous growing habits of honeysuckle vines and pricker brambles. We were determined to liberate some beautiful mature dogwoods that were almost totally swallowed up by the honeysuckle. The area eventually became what I call my daylily bank and I use the word “bank” in two ways. Yes, there’s a substantial slope but it’s where I’m forever adding new deposits of plant material.
    Anyway, thanks for all the work you put into your 2 year blogaversary post.

    Thanks for clicking! I like the idea of your *bank*. HA

  7. Barbara H. says:

    It’s always a joy to read your posts, Frances, but this morning was especially fun. I had the pleasure of happening upon an orangey (sp?) daylily bloom in the midst of purple loropetalum leaves the other day. The daylily was one of many given to me so when planting I had no idea of the color. And of course the loropetalum has grown much more than I was expecting. The evolution of your hill gardens is quite dramatic. I love the current shape of the hedge – it really brings it to life. Keeping the right balance between control and chaos is a little tricky at times. But plants, like hair, usually grow back if I’ve been a little too aggressive with the pruners.

    Thank you for those kind, encouraging words, Barbara. You don’t know how much they mean to me! The orange daylily amid the dark Loropetalum must be fabulous, I do love that combination. The hedge is edgy, not boring. It makes for more tricky pruning, but also makes me smile. I was thinking about the hair cutting while trimming the hedge, if I try to *even it up* there will be nothing left. I used to do that when cutting my daughter’s bangs and have photos to prove it, poor things. HA

  8. I love the look you have achieved with the boxwood as it waves around the garden…very peaceful and not too controlled…lovely

    Thanks Donna. That is one part of the garden that looks good all year with the hedge and thymes that are evergreen and the bench and hardscape. Especially pretty with snow on them.

  9. David says:

    “There is no control in a garden.” Honey, you are speaking my language. I woke up so discouraged this morning just looking at my list of chores. These were just to MAINTAIN what’s already there. NO new fancy stuff graced that long list. I think what most people don’t understand is that once you move away from the standard grass and landscape it’s a whole different ball game. Your garden looks fabulous and you’ve given me a bit of hope. Baby steps as the movie says. (Movie…What about Bob?)

    Yes, it’s all about baby steps. HA If you look at all of the things that need doing just to keep the status quo, it certainly can get overwhelming. You couldn’t even hire out the work, no one would know what to do.

  10. commonweeder says:

    Your hedge is just beautiful. And healthy. What a wonderful way to create a border around this peaceful space. Control is always an issue in my garden. the rugosas are vagabonding and I can’t figure out how to control the black raspberries. My old boss used to say ‘power cannot be granted – it must be seized.’ I will try again, and you have certainly provided encouragement. Patience is key, apparently.

    Thanks Pat. That boxwood has been a good choice for the hedge. It gets no supplemental water, even in our hot and dry summers and never even blinks. As I tell my kids, all gardens need lots of pruning, they seem to have some kind of fear that they will do it wrong and *hurt* the plant. Sounds like you might need some rose and black raspberry cutting! If we don’t have patience before beginning a garden, it will quickly teach us some. HA

  11. As I was out in the garden today editing, I was thinking the same thing. Give it a week and the garden tries to go back to its natural self. You have certainly made yours a beautiful expression of yourself my friend. I could barely get past the words Hornet nests though I must say.

    Hi Dee, thanks so much. It is surprising how quickly the jungle returns, especially at this time of year. We can barely keep the walls of wilderness at bay. Hornets are aggressive, especially if their nests are disturbed!

  12. A delicious post about a topic I am thinking on much myself these days… and getting more and more appropriate towards the end: just this morning I was looking at the box cuttings due to become the hedge in the planned Mothers’ Garden and thinking on the relationship between the mind’s eye and reality. Sometimes I envy the truly green indigenous South African gardener, where inactivity becomes the art and total lack of intervention (in a weed free = exotic free environment) is considered the ideal…

    Hi Jack, thanks. Your hedge sounds delightful and perfect for the space you have planned. There was another little hedge started on the lower terrace from cuttings of this hedge. They root so easily and add so much to the garden. A weed free/exotic free environment? Nonexistant here in the States.

  13. Enjoyed seeing the befores and afters. You have carved out a lovely garden. Working with a hillside is a talent (one that I am still learning!)

    Hi Janet, thanks for those kind words. Learning to work with the slope is a trial and error process. I am still feeling my way. Good luck with yours!

  14. Linda says:

    First of all ….the lily with the Japanese Maple looks like a match made in heaven! If you just had a citrine or lime green flower there, the complimentary color scale would be complete.
    But I am seriously digging the “20 ft. tall” mutant lilies, supported by the so kool trellises (if they were solid…they’d be obilisques!) Your space rocks!!! (As usual, Francis…..) Great post…thanks, Linda Sherly

    Thanks Linda. There are Sunpower hostas under the maple, just not showing in that shot. It is quite gorgeous. The orange flower was just the fireworks needed to the scene. That lily is crazy, so much taller than the others. This is the first year all of the African Queens are blooming nicely up in the knot garden, with just that one shooting up to the sky. Not exactly the vision, but what can you do? HA

    • Linda says:

      You can wait for the offsprings………In a couple years you will celebrate your gentle giants, and I promise…your garden will grow to new heights. (haha……pun intended)

      Thanks Linda. I am not sure what offspring you are referring to, the lilies? New heights is what we like to see!

  15. pivi says:

    Hi Frances, greetings from Finland. I love your garden, you’ve such a stunning garden. I’ve many times looked at your picture of your herb circle, I really love it, and I want something like this myself. I do not have much room, but I’ll try. I have thought that I’ll write in my blog about my herb garden planning, and I would like to borrow one of your herb circle photos, I would also mention your name and your blog. Do you give me permission to loan picture ?

    Hi Pivi, thanks for those kind words. Good luck with your herb garden, and yes, you may use my photo for your blog, with credit and a link to me, please. If you were using it in a publication I would require payment, however. Thanks for asking.

  16. pivi says:

    Many many thanks Frances. When I’ll write about my herb garden planning and about your herb circle as a model, I’ll mention You and your blog, and I’ll inform you asap. And no publications, only a blog post. Have a nice spring, greetings, pivi.

  17. Pingback: Hedging Along | Fairegarden

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