design as perfectionism vs pragmatism

We generally talk about gardens as never finished, unlike paintings that are finished. I don't paint but I imagine whether a work is finished or not is an arbitrary decision by the artist. If it’s been sold or given away then it is certainly finished. But if it’s still hanging around then the artist can touch it up or radically change it at will.

It is true that a garden never stays the same. But I am thinking that there is a difference between updating the current basic design by weeding, pruning, etc. and pulling stuff out to start again. Until recently every few years I changed the garden. Not for the sake of it - although that is what a few uncomprehending friends and relatives believe – but for design reasons.

I used to be ruthlessly uncompromising. I’d see something that looked out of place or unattractive, (even a tree that was 3 years old) and within days it was out – moved, given away, even on the way to compost. (I told you I was ruthless). Now on the whole I’m pretty happy with the way the garden looks. I think twice now instead of starting again all the time in the search for perfection. (Except in a couple of spots that are definitely still unfinished!)

At the moment there are two plants in the garden that are not perfect in my design-eyes but I think I will compromise and keep them anyway.

One example of my newfound pragmatism is this Acacia itypheallea shrub. I planted it about 3 years ago and forgot to consciously withstand the urge towards symmetry. Consequently I placed it right in the middle of its garden bed!!!!!!!! I wish I would have planted it about a metre to the right but intend to live with it as it is.

The other example is this Teucronium betonicum. I have two specimens and they have both been extremely mobile, probably moving around the garden at least 5 or 6 times. Now I have found two spots where they associate beautifully with their neighbours and are growing healthily and happily.

Unfortunately I didn’t realize the flowers were such a bright pink colour, nor that they would be in flower at the same time as the wallflowers whose pink is much more subtle and muddy. I like the look of the flowers but they spoil the colour scheme of the front garden. I’m not going to move them though. I have a brilliant and simple idea to remedy this problem. I’ve decided to cut off the flowers – as soon as I photograph them to illustrate this point.


  1. Dear Catmint. Ruthless could be my watchword too, but perhaps it is, dare I say, getting older, that makes one more circumspect than when one was in the first flush of youth.

    I always chop off the flowers of my Hostas since I just do not feel that they contribute at all either to the design of the border or to the colour scheme.

    Perhaps most things in life are about compromise in the end and so gardening is just one example?!!

  2. Sometimes plants and trees find their own place in the garden and it would be cruel to move them.

  3. Love it! I'm the same, as prepared to move plants that don't work as I am furniture - more so, I don't care about the furniture as much! The Acacia issue made me smile - I've often had to stop myself wanting to move something a mere few inches. And this is despite spending ages pondering where to plant things in the first place. Maybe one day my eye and experience will be such that I get it "right" first time and the only moving will be to cope with growth or damage. Until then...

  4. Hi Catmint, I seem to remember your determined change in gardening. There was a drought... At any rate, these photos show evidence of a nice, lush garden. It seems that all is well and you're doing a wonderful job. Even if we don't find the "perfect" place, we also must allow for those happy accidents that happen due to reseeding, etc. :-) Good going!

  5. Hi Catmint, Cut them off and bring them indoors for a nice table arrangement. This is what I do. Much easier that digging and trying to obtain perfection. Some things just require a compromise. Nice photos. Love the Acacia--right where it is! :)

  6. I've been thinking about what Hermes said. Is it better to move things whose location you've chosen? When something choses its own location is it better to leave it there? What about weeds? I guess when a plant does not want to move it shows its disapproval by dying.

  7. You have another option... when the plant at the wall is not in bloom, and if the Teucronium betonicum is flowering, this could be another effect also :-D Perfecting the garden is an on going project and I am sure one day you will see a nicely pruned Acacia itypheallea shrub.

  8. Hi Catmint. I paint as well as garden and you are right. I have a number of paintings that to anyone else may look finished, but until they look the same on canvas as in my mind's eye I have to keep playing with them.
    The garden can be the same but I try to be content with what's there because sometimes how it looks is more up to Nature than me.

  9. As I move toward more native plantings, I become less and less "tidy." I look at my neighbors neatly sheared and perfectly spaced plantings and then I look at my seed heads, tall grasses and closely packed, roaming beds ... I like giving in to nature. I will move something that is not "competing" well. But because my garden is relatively new I haven't had time to really sit and contemplate its design in fruition - though I do endless plannings on paper. But come planting time spontaneity always comes into play. We'll see how we grow together!

  10. Compromise is the stuff of life ... otherwise we are destined to make our life a misery. I look at your garden and see beauty ... not flaws. I do know, however, that it's difficult for you to look at your garden with your designer eye and not see where change might be needed.

    I rather like the idea of just cutting off the unwanted flowers and using them to decorate indoors ... and the Acacia looks like it's found its rightful place centre-stage. I think you've done a fabulous job getting your garden to this stage ... it's time to sit back and just enjoy it!

  11. Thank you so much dear cyberfriends for your comments. This post was a hard one for me to write, quite painful. But in the process of writing it, I actually started to change, and your comments have helped me to feel better about the conundrum.

    I feel a bit freer and happier to let nature have more sway in the nature - nurture garden balance. And although Grace, your idea of bringing the blooms indoors is a good one, I'm leaving them in the garden after all.

    cheers, cm


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