Sunday Opinion: Maintenance

It is my opinion that great design really comes to nothing, without great maintenance.  A landscape designer I worked for in the 80’s did no landscaping in the spring until his clients had pruning, fertilizing, and the replacement of plants that did not survive the winter.  After this work was done, he would commence with new work.   He would give seminars in pruning and fertilizing techniques in the spring for clients who liked to do their own work.  Every year I would come in on a Saturday, and Sunday both on a given weekend,   to talk about the maintenance of perennial gardens, roses and the like.  We would bring plants in the greenhouse, and do demonstrations. This weekend was the only in-house event he ever sponsored.  At the time, it seemed like nuisance duty, but now I realize he was dead to right about the importance of maintenance.

Not everything I design gets installed.  I worked on a project with Buck this winter-designing gardens purely from my imagination, that will probably never be built.  What huge  fun that was.  Only because he is building models of those gardens of basswood, infilled with mosses-that are meant to be hung on a wall – they will be built, but in a different way.  Getting projects built is important to me.   He has three of these models  in process now. These will not depend on a client deciding to build them.  I don’t think I ever could have been an architect.  It takes so much time, and so much money to build a building-how many of any given architects designs get built?  I would guess not a big percentage.    My point here is that if I do have a client willing to build a landscape I have designed, or if you decide to install a landscape of your own design, the installation is by no means the end.  Au contraire, it is only the beginning.  I would suggest that keeping up with what you have invested your time, money and heart in is a good idea.

The inspiration for this essay came to me this afternoon-as I was out deadheading my roses.  The roses share a bed with my asparagus, which is better than 8 feet tall, Japanes anemone “Honorine Jobert”, some giant hot pink hibiscus, and boltonia.  I love the big breezy mess.  But what bloody hell it is to walk in there and not crush anything.  My legs and arms are all scratched from the roses, and the asparagus are threatening to go over as its been very windy all day.  Exasperating, to say the least.  But should I throw over the maintenance of these plants, the fresh, wild balance would soon be lost.  This garden looks loose and cottage like-but that by no means indicates that it is not maintained. I have limited areas like this to only 2 in my garden-and what I cannot maintain myself, I hire someone to maintain.  No kidding,   one of the reasons I work is to to be able to afford my garden. 

Early on I posted about the essays of Henry Mitchell. I reread The Essential Earthman every so often.  He remarked that there is no such thing as a beautiful old garden – all beautiful gardens are a result of the intensive care of the present.  I try to hold that thought as I am wading through the roses. Many clients I go to see do not have design issues, nor do they need a new planting.  They need the trees and or shrubs trimmed, the dead cut out of this and that, the perennials divided, a topdressing of compost, a thorough weeding, mulching-or perhaps treatment for borers.  Perhaps a sprinkler head needs additional riser to accomodate plants that have grown since the irrigation was first installed. Perhaps a poorly draining area needs some drainage work.  Maybe a sick tree needs treatment.  A beautifully designed area that is not growing robustly is sometimes the fault of the designer.  Siting plants properly is art and science both; any landscape designer needs an extensive knowledge of plants.  When I take my car to be repaired, I expect that person has extensive knowledge of what it takes to make a vehicle go. My clients rely on me to design for them in a way that moves their garden forward.    But sometimes a poor show is poor maintenance,  plain and simple.  

Maintenance is not always a particularly exciting activity.  But the results can be very exciting.  I can spot from a block away a property that has been lovingly looked after.  I can likewise spot a landscape that has gone to rack and ruin.  Its not the easiest thing to convince a client that they need to invest some time, or some money, or both, to the maintenance of the landscape of which they are a steward.  I do try.

Some physicist whose name I cannot remember  came to the conclusion that everything in the universe tends to dissolution.  Is this concept not obvious to anyone who has a boat, a house, and /or a landscape?


  1. You are so good!

  2. So true, so true!

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