How My Thoughts On Gardening Have Changed

– Posted in: Garden Musings

When I started my garden on a bare piece of ground twenty plus years ago, I never could have imagined that it would develop into what it is now: intensely planted multi-tiered layers of garden rooms housed on a steeply sloping one half acre property.


This garden of mine has gone through several transformations, as have I as a gardener and as an individual. It reflects where I am in my life. Now I am the steward of a very mature garden, a property where I must renovate in order to feel infused with the exhilaration of observing plantings develop from their infancy onwards within the context of a new design.

090106-sorin-garden-2nd-level-ricinus-persicaria-and-arbor-resized.jpgPerhaps it was 5-7 years ago when my garden was at its best for wooing visitors. At that time, it offered extraordinary color and plant combinations as well as terrific bones. It also made visitors realize that it was possible to transform a cookie cutter development home into a property that one might find in the countryside of Italy. People ‘oohed’ and ‘ahhed’ as they meandered through.

But something has happened since then that represents an evolution in my philosophy of what constitutes a garden. Rather than a high maintenance, startling beautiful design, I have found myself compelled to let the garden develop into a more naturalized state, without it crossing over the line into a state of chaos (although sometimes it gets pretty close to it).


I am no longer interested in arduously maintaining my garden. Nor am I terribly concerned when I observe a specimen randomly seeding itself. It is only when it begins to crowd out other plants that I pull in its wings and pull out some of its seedlings. And whereas I used to get a thrill in creating charming vignettes, (and I still greatly admire the artistry of those who do) I now plant in huge blocks of one plant specimen, gazing at it from afar. I now find myself entering another stage of gardening with a strong interest in green roofs, prairie meadows, tree canopies in urban areas and xeriscaping: such is the journey of living a rich life.

When walking through my top island beds, garden designing friends of mine will frequently mention how out of scale my Miscanthus sinensis are. My response is that I can imagine Moses in the bulrush cushioned by the bamboos swaying in the breeze.

fs-garden-joe-pye-weed-and-miscanthus-resized.jpgAfter all, isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder? I absolutely love the feel of this bed with its Macleya cordata, Eupatorium fistulosum, Molinia ‘Windspiel’, Panicum virgatum and Miscanthus sinensis jockeying for space in order to be the shining star amongst all of the others. I don’t care a wit what anyone else thinks about it. I garden only to please myself.

fs-garden-top-bed-resized-september.JPGI have been deeply influenced by the philosophy and work of Henk Gerritsen, a colleague of Piet Oudolf, both designers of Dutch origin. He is the master of creating a well controlled natural looking garden. I follow in his footsteps in my intent: to see how far a garden can stretch in order to expose the soul of its creator and to let nature lead the way while still having a restrained hand in order to maintain some sense of artistry.

Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

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Fran Sorin
5 comments… add one

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Kim September 11, 2007, 12:12 am

I have nothing brilliant to add to this post, but I did want to say that I greatly enjoyed reading it.

Jennifer September 11, 2007, 1:29 am

What a wonderful post. Just today I was wondering why I am always driven by the urge to buy small specimens or start from seed something new every season. It crossed my mind that my garden will forever have that haphazard ‘natural’ feel because the enjoyment for me is in the growing, not the official and final garden design.

I do admire those gardeners who have a plan and stick to it, creating cohesive designs that are truly beautiful. I think it’s time to admit that’s just not me because I will forever want the surprises regardless of how uncoordinated it may look to outsiders.

fransorin September 11, 2007, 1:48 pm

I agree with your viewpoint. And Kim,
thanks for your words. Fran

Martha Meador October 21, 2007, 5:07 pm

I have a huge moses-in-the-bulrush plant in my living room. I would like to know how to transplant and divide it. It is beautiful as it is but I fear it is out growing its container. Any info would be appreciated. Thank you. Martha Meador

Chris Woods January 9, 2008, 2:33 pm

It’s because you are getting older. Eyes grow dim and backs grow bent. More importantly, the desire to control every damn thing starts to fade. Formal and highly maintained gardens are for the young, naturalized gardens are for the old.


Of course you’re right on target. As we grow older together, I will try to remember your wise words and not be so hard on myself!! Good to hear your voice chiming in. Fran

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