The Case for Cluttered Design

I have to admit I’m a bit greedy when it comes to plants. I make a planting plan and bring my list to the garden center, but I’m apt to stray from it if I see something exciting. And this year I have a toddler who finds all plants exciting egging me on. She rides in the cart at our local garden center and greets just about any plant I pick up with a screech or a squeal. It’s all leading to a “unique” look in my garden . . . hints of a nice design, with oddballs smooshed into odd places. I found a comforting passage in a garden book this past weekend.

I was rereading Flowerpots: A Seasonal Guide to Planting, Designing and Displaying Pots by Jim Keeling, a British potter. His company, Whichford Pottery, makes over 30,000 hand-thrown terra-cotta pots a year. Aside from making pots, Keeling loves to garden, and he and his employees are constantly cooking up new combinations to display in their containers. It’s a beautiful book, with photographs by Andrew Lawson; it offers much planting inspiration plus an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the life of a pot maker, several stunning British gardens, the Chelsea Flower Show, and more.

Anyway, the passage that caught my eye recently follows. (Best read in a British accent.)

“My usual design response to a small space is to make it seem larger by engaging the eye with lots of detail. This is not to everyone’s taste, however, and at Chelsea I have also been through a minimalist phase, all gravel, tufts of grass, cut stone, and stainless steel poles, which was greatly appreciated by European designers. The immediate stimulus was a new range of modern pots with a strong simple design that I had made. Yet, while I enjoyed the postmodernism as an exercise, I am too romantic a gardener for such simplicity, and too messy. I prefer the friendly chaos of complicated plantings that allow you the freedom to make changes whenever you want and to follow your whims. By contrast, as design gets simpler, any deviation from the original concept begins to radically alter the balance of the whole.”

What about you—do you follow your whims and keep your garden complex and chaotic, or take a more organized, streamlined approach?

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6 thoughts on “The Case for Cluttered Design

  1. I too am a “plant collector,” as my gardening friends call me. In addition, I have no artistic eye so most things are moved around after they’ve been growing for a season or two. It’s more work, but more fun too. The one condition I have set for myself lately is to resist any plant that isn’t “deer resistant.” The deer here in SE Michigan are getting out of control. 🙁

  2. Yay for variety! Gardening is about surprise! My husband used to bring me cut flowers almost weekly from a local specialty grocery store. When I started gardening he decided plants were better than cut flowers. He picks whatever he thinks is the prettiest taking no note of its “requirements”. So once or twice a month I look for a space in my garden for these prettiest of plants. The ones that don’t survive help nourish my compost pile but the ones that thrive are constant reminders of the life we’re continuing to build together, even though we may not always see things the same way.

  3. Ah-h-h ! So good to know that others have MHTP syndrome. MHTP stands for ” Must Have That PLant “, identified some 25 years ago by a group of LI Master Gardenersafter some group tours to some local nurseries and gardens. The symptoms of the syndrome,which, once contracted, never go away, result in copious amounts of plants coming home with you whenever you see something you can’t resst and then walking around the garden, trowel and plat in hand,looking for the ideal location to place this treasure. Sometimes, a place is found, but more often than not, the new plant winds up sitting in in a container next to otherhomeless plants in what I call ” A Seasonal Grouping And, of course, isn’t Nature Herself a celebration of exuberance, organized chaos, ? She doesn’t plant in rows, and abhors monocultures. So, I say, ” Hurray to Nature ! ” ( and celebrate your MHTP )ThInspiration ( and justification ! ) for me The Native Plant G

  4. May garden is certainly a mess of plants. I call it wabi sabi approach. If something self-seeds, so be it. I also garden for wildlife so diversity is a plus. I expand a bed here and add another there. What ever works. This is the joy of gardening planting what you like how you like it.

  5. Always nice to see an arguement for “organized chaos”. A modern, simple and clean style would never work for me. (A)I am definitely one of those untidy people. (B)Where would I put all those plants I haven’t grown yet and just have to try? Mine is a collector’s garden. While I do much thinking about where something should be placed, in the end, I run out of room and it is where can it be squeezed or what I can chuck so there is room for one more got-to have.

  6. I can certainly relate to this. I’m planting my front yard with anything that strikes my fancy. I love flowers and the cottage garden look. Here in Kentucky, everyone is into vast green lawns and boxwoods. That’s about it. They must be growing flowers in their backyards, because just about everything grows here, unlike Southern California which is where I’m from. I consider Kentucky a flower lovers paradise.

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