A friend sent me a link to a story in the Washington Post by Adrian Higgins, a fascinating look at decades of Wolfgang Oehme's career. It centers on his first residential garden in Baltimore, designed more than four decades ago, when Oehme was a recent emigre from Germany. His ideas were radical - he ripped up lawn and a rose garden and "layered the outdoor spaces with specimen shrubs, massed perennials and ornamental grasses, turning the idea of a garden on its head. As a predominantly herbaceous garden, it grew lusher by the month, bloomed defiantly in the heat of summer and became a tapestry of colors and textures in the fall and beyond." This suburban garden, Higgins writes, was a launching pad for a revolution in U.S. garden design.
Such plant-rich gardens brought nature back into public and private landscapes, expanded our plant palettes, gave us a fresh appreciation for seasonal change outside our back doors.
But I read the article looking for some mention of what it takes to maintain such an extravagantly layered landscape - you'll see from the photos in the Post piece that there are an astounding number of plants, many of them large grasses, squeezed onto a suburban lot. Which makes for lovely blurring of boundaries and gorgeous textures and a huge amount of work. Just think of the bio-mass generated on that one small lot.
Such luscious gardens are a delight, but I've come to believe that how much we enjoy our gardens is directly related to how much they cost to maintain, in dollars, time, and resources. Without a crew of gardeners at our beck-and-call, how can we create satisfying and productive gardens that we actually have time to enjoy? Perhaps to save our backs and the earth's resources we need to be more modest at home, and enjoy extravaganzas like the ones shown below in public landscapes.This is a question I continue to contemplate, and the subject of my new book due out in October.....
Here are a few images of Oehme Van Sweden Associates gorgeous gardens, courtesy of their web page.