Sunday Opinion:Tunnel Vision

A client broached the topic.  “I am afraid I have tunnel vision about my landscape, and I even don’t know it”.  She made me laugh. That is an oxymoron if I ever heard one; I told her.   If the words were coming out, the idea had already taken hold.  It says a lot about a certain kind of good design process that she would even consider the pitfalls of  tunnel vision.  It is worth worrying about-no question.  Ranking right up there with sheets that have been on the bed one too many days,  every gardener needs to think about what it would be, how it could  be better, to make a change or two.  Do new. Prune up, remove, take a new direction-get fresh.  Think about what it would mean not to have something. I have an old, big, and not good looking maple on my driveway. What is left of a crown that has been greatly thinned by scald and maple decline, does not screen any untoward view.  What would it be like to cut that thing down, and put a sculpture on the trunk that has been left really high?  As I view the tree from my Romeo and Juliet balcony, a tall trunk and sculpture might be striking. Pleasing.  Better than what I look at now.

 Am I a victim of my own tunnel vision?  The tree was fairly mature the day I moved in 15 years ago, albeit in better condition than it is now.  If its always been there, does that prove it should always be there? Getting fresh can be plenty scary, especially when it involves taking down a tree.  But sometimes a tree is just one of God’s biggest weeds. Just because something is big, doesn’t make it precious. I would never take down a healthy  tree on a whim; I would rather design around it, or showcase it.  It is a case of tunnel vision, though, when you can’t see that some trees are just weeds.

Tunnel vision is as common as a dandelion in a lawn.  Don’t worry if you have them every so often. Start to worry when your one dandelion is starting to colonize.  I have a neighbor who has thrown his Christmas tree in his back yard for the past two years.  Now he has 3 little dead magnolias he put in, and didn’t water; they are still in the ground.  And later, plastic pots on their sides have the skeletons of  dead plants in them.  A decaying rowboat makes another statement.  He somehow got the idea his back yard was a place for refuse; now it has become a refuse dump.   Never mind him; my Princeton Gold maples are screening that mess from my view.  But if you come to some day,  and find you have tunnel vision colonies, get the best professional help you can find. 

I am the first to admit that I am my own worst enemy in my yard.  I have a thing about history in a garden.  I have two old Palabin lilacs on standard that I inherited; their heads must be 8 feet in diameter.  I have always barked underneath them-why?  Because that has been their history.  I know there are plenty of times I would give anything for a good designer to shake me.  Even when I do get it, from Buck, or a friend, I still can be stubborn about holding on to what has always been for dear life.  The process of change is not really that charming. 

I lived in my house for 6 years doing nothing except watering, and barking the beds I inherited.  It finally occurred to me that no matter how busy I was, if I were going to get a garden made in what lifetime I had left, I had better get moving. The best thing about sponsoring a garden tour to benefit the Greening of Detroit was raising 12,000.00 for them.  The second best thing was hearing people tell me they were inspired to ditch the blinders, and take on a project that had been been staring at them for a good while.  As I like to be encouraged too, this felt good.

In my dreams, I would throw off the constraints of my history, I would entertain new ideas;  I would embrace the unknown. I would research.  I would stop fussing, and look at things from a different angle, or in different light.  I would learn, digest, and make plans.  I would fume, and come up to grade like a firecracker that just got its fuse lit.  

Every day I ask my clients to give up the ideas they have had about their landscapes for a new and fresh idea.  Old landscapes may need some chopping, some rearranging.  and some re-orienting, I tell them. There are those places that only a bulldozer can rescue.  Or places that need more lawn, or a thorough cleanup.  I am familiar with their shock.   My clients put up with plenty from me; I know  first hand that feeling of dread and distaste that comes along with knowing there needs to be some changes made.  But in truth, a little change can be like a new sparkplug for your gardening engine.



  1. Susan Golden says

    Amazing is what you are and your blog is always wonderful to read!! How joyful to learn, read and see the insight that you give, reflect and act upon…I truly enjoy and appreciate your talent which is beyond words!!! What a beautiful summer…may it last a long time for us all to enjoy. Miss you! ~Susie

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