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What's your garden personality?
Formal, natural, eccentric or edible, thereís a garden for all of us. Which type is your perfect match?

By LAURIE ARENDT

June 2009

Our personalities define us, shaping our wardrobes, our homes and even our landscapes. A home can tell a visitor a great deal about its owner, but so too can what is found outside of its doors, making a garden a creative way to express yourself.

So what kind of gardener are you? Hereís your chance to find out.

Formal

Patron saints: Andrť Le Nítre, King Louis XXIV of Franceís gardener and the man behind the landscaping at the palace of palace of Versailles; Beatrix Farrand, one of Americaís first female landscape architects

Influences: The formal gardens of Europe

Signature plants: Clipped shrubbery and evergreens; a calculated mix of perennials and annuals

"When I think of formal gardens, what immediately comes to mind is the palace of Versailles," says landscape architect Joe Kresl, owner of Hawks Nursery. "Itís a manicured space, with focal points and symmetry."

If youíre the kind of person who likes to experience nature in control, this is your sweet spot. "One of the best ways to think of formal gardening is that youíre extending your house outdoors," says Kyle Kohlmann, a landscape architect with Seasonal Services in Mukwonago. "Formal gardens take a lot of their cues from the architecture of your house."

Well-defined, crisp edges, in everything from paths to the way hedges are clipped, are the hallmark of a formal garden. "Water also is a big element in formal gardens, but itís more in the form of pools, fountains or ponds with a very controlled edge," says Kresl. "Formal gardens are actually strong in Milwaukee, and I think itís due to our areaís deep European roots. Thereís a real strong sense of traditional landscaping here."

Natural

Patron saints: Jens Jensen, designer of Chicagoís Grant Park and founder of The Clearing, a school in Door County; Lorrie Otto, local naturalist and conservationist; Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture; Frank Lloyd Wright

Influences: Nature itself, the pre-European landscape

Signature plants: Native species

Wisconsinites are fortunate in that we have firsthand exposure to some of the leaders of this movement, which relies on native plantings.

"The big idea behind native and natural gardens is that everything is tied back to the local environment," says Rob Holly, a landscape architect with Seasonal Services. "The design should fit a particular space."

Holly points to the work of Jens Jensen, designer of numerous parks in Chicago and the founder of The Clearing in Door County, as well as Northshore naturalist Lorrie Otto, the inspiration for the Wild Ones conservation group. Locally, we can also look to Milwaukeeís Lake Park for an example of natural landscaping. The park was designed in the 1890s by Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture. "His idea was to bring nature into the city," says Kresl. "Thereís a blend of what was going on in the formal parks of Europe, but also a place for nature, which was more unmanageable and more random."

Even Frank Lloyd Wright gets a nod here. "He was an architect, but he had three favorite plants found in Wisconsin: arbor vitae, cranberry bush viburnum and red dogwood," he says. "You can see how he utilized them at Taliesin in Spring Green."

Natural gardeners place a value on what is around them, and are willing to put in the time and effort to keep or restore the native landscape. Itís not as easy as it sounds, though. "It is a looser style than traditional, formal gardening," says Holly. "But thereís more of a focus on the whole ecosystem, of not just planting things but also removing things, like buckthorn, that donít belong."

Edible

Patron saints: Rosalind Creasy, author of "The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping;" Alice Waters, owner of Californiaís Chez Panisse restaurant

Influences: Grandmothers, World War II victory gardens, farmers markets

Signature plants: Palate pleasers that can stand up to Wisconsinís climate

"Of all the gardening types, edible gardens are unique because they can fit into any other landscape," says Kresl. "They work with any type of garden style or personality."

Certainly the oldest gardening style known to man, edible gardeners started out as purely practical. "Kitchen gardens were very popular in the New World and what people are doing now has really evolved from that," he adds. "We donít see the big garden plots that people used for survival or to feed their families anymore, but there is a definite interest in this type of gardening."

This type of gardening draws a wide swath of people. Thereís the organic crowd and the ultimate locavores who relish nothing more than walking outside for a fresh-picked tomato or herbs. Then there are those who embrace the challenge of simply growing their own food.

Kresl is one of them. He incorporates herbs into his landscape ó noting that parsley can make a "great little hedge" ó as well as terra cotta pots for herbs and tomatoes. "In my opinion, this isnít an approach you should try to save money," he says. "Itís more about enjoyment and convenience, and then thereís a little pride in being able to say you grew it yourself."

Eccentric

Patron saints: Poet Stanley Kunitz, author of "The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden;" artist Simon Rodea; environmentalist John Muir

Influences: Surrealism, American folk art

Signature plants: All are welcome

As a self-described eccentric gardener, master gardener Barbara McHugh has an apt description for her landscape. "Itís like an heirloom quilt that Iím piecing together from scraps Ö and Iím never going to finish it," she says. "I like to deconstruct previous gardening notions and try new ideas."

If youíre a creative soul who doesnít like to abide by notions and rules, this is where you should be digging. "Our defining element is that we donít have a defining element," laughs McHugh, who often answers the phone at the Ozaukee County Master Gardenersí Yard and Garden Line.

Eccentric gardeners have a tendency to accept all plants and all objets díart that come their way and incorporate them into the landscape. Nature is not the enemy; itís a conspirator in an eccentric garden. This type of gardener also tends to apply an artistís eye to the ground.

Thatís one of the reasons McHugh cites Simon Rodea, creator of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, as a personal patron saint. Like Watts, McHugh is a fan of thoughtfully incorporated objects. "I drag things home," she says. "I have four pieces of a bridge, a walkway, Studebaker hubcaps."

But itís also important to understand that eccentric gardening has a purpose; itís not controlled chaos. Instead, thereís more of a happy tension between gardener and nature. "I do have little pools of order in my landscape, such as my vegetable gardens," she says. "Nature always tries to reclaim itself, but in my landscape, I choose who lives and who dies." 

 


This story ran in the June 2009 issue of: