There are garden trends and then there are garden movements. Trends are hot for a moment then slip out of the spotlight when something new comes around. Movements take root (excuse the garden pun) and slowly establish a strong following of thoughtful gardeners and landscape designers working to improve our garden experience. More recent movements have gardens becoming more align with nature.
One such movement is the transition of lawns to gardens, often times, edible gardens. Extreme adopters of the movement have taken the stance that all lawns are bad and should be eliminated. But that may not be an obtainable goal according to many landscape professionals. “I often find in landscape movements, as with just about anything in life, the extreme is never realistic,” explains Pete Wimberg. “Somewhere in the middle is where most homeowners will fall; between being solely driven by our lawns and a desire to create a more natural landscape.”
In Defense of the Lawn
In full disclosure Wimebrg Landscaping offers a lawn care service. This business track is driven not by the company, but by a realistic, practical desire of their clients to have a place to play with their kids, have a picnic, let their pets roam or just enjoy the feeling of grass on their bare feet. “From a design point of view, a lawn does a remarkable job of accentuating a garden. Curved, neatly edged lawns lead us around a landscape taking us from point to point within the landscape,” Pete explains. “Or, as often seen in British gardens, a lawn balances out the lushly planted, very generously sized border gardens. When done well, the lawn and garden balance each other.”
Moving Beyond the Lawn
There are clear signs a homeowner is ready to move away from the lawn. If the time and cost of maintaining the lawn is not in balance with the enjoyment created by the lawn, it’s time to rethink the landscape. Or when homeowners are battling a steep hill, quite common in Cincinnati, the lawn isn’t used for play as it was in the past, or they are simply looking for something new, the lawn can go. Such was the case for Pete, who transformed his front lawn into a naturalistic landscape.
A desire to do something different, beyond the norm that he saw on his daily commute, motivated Pete to abandon his front lawn for a naturalistic garden planting. “I wanted something that stood out when people drove by.” He wanted to stand out against the landscapes he likens to a making a living: very planned, always the same and not a reflection of the people living there. As he sees it, “The great landscapes stand out when you find them.” It was more than a desire to ‘be different’ that drove Pete to ditch the lawn, “I simply like plants more than I like lawns,” he shares. “I like to try different plants in my garden. If they make it, great, if not, I move on to something else. I wish I had 10 times the space to try more. I see many plants I wish I could have.”
Pete’s love of plants, particularly native plants, is nurtured by his time in the woods. Be it on his bike, exploring trails in the Smokey Mountains or walking around the local park, being close to native habitats inspires his plant selection for his own garden’s design. “I think it’s almost impossible to replicate what we see in nature in a residential landscape by purposefully planting it,” Pete is quick to admit. “Nature just does a better job of dispersing the plants but we can get close and have fun doing it.” And what does he like to plant when he’s pulling inspiration from nature? “I want ferns and wild flowers and grasses and flowering shrubs, and lots of them. I’d rather prune and pull weeds and divide plants than mow a lawn. It’s just more fun and peaceful.”
Degrees of Nature
A designer must ascertain to what degree a client wants and understands a natural garden to be. A garden can be seeded with wildflowers and left to fend for itself or a far more formal design is adopted employing native plants. Somewhere in the middle is where most people desiring a natural garden settle. An intermingled garden gives the illusion of a naturally occurring landscape, but it’s actually very thoughtfully designed and maintained. “The intermingled garden allows for generous plant communities somewhat mixing without looking like a garden has been abandoned,” explains Pete. “I think it’s natural for people to want a bit of order in their gardens.”
As for Pete’s garden, it leans a bit more towards the natural garden. “My weekly tinkering in the garden keeps things mostly in check, and I’m able to remove obnoxious weeds and interlopers. But for the most part, the garden is dictating the terms of the arrangement and I’m simply along for the ride.”
Unlike a traditional foundation planting bed that maintains a steady note throughout the year, a nature-inspired garden is constantly evolving throughout the season and over the years. “I like how mine changes from spring to summer to fall to winter, from nothing to everything and back to nothing,” Pete shares. “I like that it’s big! Big groups of plants. Tall plants. Plants that could take over. I like that it’s not perfect and never will be. It will always be a work in progress and there is always something to do. It’s not just a lot of mulch. Almost every space is filled. I like that.”