Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Plant Driven Design at Toronto Botanical Garden

Went last night to an excellent presentation by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden, the husband and wife authors of Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor Plants, Place, and Spirit(Timber Press, 2008).

I've been a fan of Springer's since I heard her speak in the mid-90s (she referred to herself as "plant whore", which got a knowing laugh from the audience of dedicated gardeners).

I enjoyed her previous books, The Undaunted Garden, and Passionate Gardening: Good Advice for Challenging Climates, co-written with Rob Proctor, and found lots of great ideas in them, even though she gardens in a climate very different from ours. She and Ogden are garden designers, and they have personal gardens in Colorado and in Texas, where they have homes.

The theme of the book and talk revolved around the concern that garden and landscape design has become divorced from plants. As they point out in the introduction:
Over the three decades of our professional involvement with plants, gardens, and garden design, we're seen increasingly outward-directed, shallow, overdesigned spaces promoted and idolized in the popular horticultural press and on television. Our frustration at this galvanized us to write this book, as did our sadness at seeing natural areas, agricultural land, and older neighborhoods relentlessly devoured by a voracious mass of man-made generic spaces and architecture from coast to coast. Plants and gardens have been made second-class citizens and yet they remain one of the next generation's few hopes for communion with living things and the fascinating beauty intrinsic to the natural world. By reclaiming gardens as a home first to plants, above all other elements, desires, and vanities, we return a life-affirming vitality to gardens and garden design.
In the book, not only do they take on landscape architects who devalue plants over hardscape, but also the homogenized suburban McMansion look of vast swaths of green lawn, a few shrubs and a tree or two, and native plant zealots who "regard typical garden flora as threatening alien vegetation."

Many of the slides they showed were of the kind of gardens I love: full of exuberant plants, particularly grasses which offer texture and movement. They pointed out what I've so often observed, that one of the design factors with grasses is light, and opportunity to have backlighting increase the drama of these plants.

Good ideas:

Revive the mundane - Try combining traditional perennials such as bearded iris and Japanese tree lilac with grasses. You see the irises and tree lilac in a completely new light.

Gardening where you are - Use plants that grow well for you. Garden regionally.

Work with natural patterns - Keep a good balance between spontaneity and control. "Plants should be allowed to be naughty," said Lauren, as she showed a slide of a formal garden that wasn't perfectly manicured.

Take home message - Celebrate surprise, discovery, playfulness and abundance.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener


  1. Yvonne, your enthusiasm about these speakers and authors make me want to know more.
    I have a gift certificate for Chapters - maybe this is it!

  2. I will be sure to get this book. I love the "plants should be allowed to be naughty" this sounds SO much like the way I run my gardens...but I do have a lot to learn! Thanks Yvonne...ever informative!!!


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-Yvonne, aka Country Gardener