What does your garden say about you?

What does your garden say about you? I’m reading a book that made me consider my own garden. It could do the same for yours. I wrote about the book in such exuberant and joyful terms on Facebook that several friends ordered it. I see it’s now a bestseller on Amazon. Great minds and all that.

Gardens of Awe and Folly by Vivian Swift
Gardens of Awe and Folly by Vivian Swift

Gardens of Awe and Folly: A Traveler’s Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening, by Vivian Swift, is part travelogue, part history lesson. It’s not a how-to book, which is fine by me. I pretty much know how to garden at this point–I can see you laughing–although I can always learn something new. It’s not a plant list book either. In fact, in Swift’s opening she writes:

“If all you ask of a garden is What?
then all you’ll probably get in reply is a planting list
But ask, instead,
Why? How? When? and, most of all, Who?
and then you’re in for a nice, long conversation.”

As Winnie the Pooh might say, Swift’s book made me have a big think.

Back garden in October with Purple Knight alternanthera and other beautiful foliage plants. Dee Nash
Back garden in October with ‘Purple Knight’ alternanthera and other foliage plants.

Gardens reflect their designer’s personalities especially if the designer is the gardener, or if you work with someone who really listens. After years of hard work, my garden shows the dichotomy of my personality. It not only reflects my inner self, but also, shows my growth as a gardener. There’s tension in its duality. Before you think I’m bipolar, let me explain.

Back garden with purple chairs. I have 'Ruby Slippers' growing in front of the arbor, but they are still small. On the right-hand side is American honeysuckle. On the left is 'Grandpa Otts' morning glory that is self-sown.
Back garden with purple chairs and Phlox paniculata in late June. The garden is starting to take off and be its Boho self.

In my heart of hearts, I am a free spirit. I adore art that is fluid with great movement. Yet, I don’t like most modern art because it stresses me out. I love billowy, Boho, fashion, but I’m also attracted by a distinct sense of order. I’ve often thought that’s why I’m Catholic. Catholic art and ritual makes my heart sing with pure joy, and its rules give me parameters I try to live by tempered by God’s mercy.

The fall front door decor once it was finally finished.
Fall is truly a time for coming home and sitting by the hearth on those cool nights.

I like to explore, but I also like coming home.

The front border is just beginning to take off in March.
The front border is just beginning to take off in March, and you can see its luscious curves.

Chaos both attracts and repels me. My back garden’s straight lines and its original design reflect my desire for order. While I enjoy the neutrals of green and brown, I also like bright colors that don’t fade in our harsh summer sun. There’s my Bohemian side again. My garden is probably the best visual representation of what goes on in my mind. It’s busy in here.

My love of bright colors might explain my passion for sun coleus and other tropical plants.
My love of bright colors might explain my passion for sun coleus and other tropical plants.

As I’ve grown older–I’m 53–my mind feels more cluttered than it did in my 20s and 30s. Yet, I’m also more at peace. I’m no longer trying to raise my children, and I have more time to consider priorities. I also don’t care about what others think of me quite so much. That’s very freeing. The 50s are a great time. Still, my brain is a cluttered space and often feels like a hard drive that needs a defrag.

If only it were that easy–

Back garden in winter shows the layout. Dee Nash
Back garden in winter shows the layout.

In winter, or early spring, you can clearly see the layout of the garden. It’s all right angles, triangles and diamonds. I think it’s beautiful especially when there’s snow on the ground, or in spring, when everything is just beginning to awaken.

I love the structure. I also like the feeling of small rooms within a larger space. Plus, the lawn–all natural and unwatered–flows away from the enclosed garden and down to a pond. I’d like to tell you I planned it this way. I didn’t though. I just wanted the garden close to the house because it was a kitchen garden, and we carved the it out of the lower pasture. One thing I’ve learned is if you want your garden well-tended, place it close to the house so you see it whenever you look outside. You can’t help but feel the need to work in it.

By July, it's difficult to see the structure in the back garden for all of the billowy plants.
By July, it’s difficult to see the structure in the back garden for all of the billowy plants.

In summer, the space gets much more full and blowsy which is what I want. Because my friend, Helen Weis, owner of Unique by Design Landscaping and Containers, stops by sometimes to play, she reminds me I need more symmetry to keep things in order. Over the years, I’ve followed her sage advice, balancing trees and shrubs on either side of the main border. I also now plant swathes of things like Phlox divaricata instead of collections of one.

Cestrum 'Orange Peel' with 'Pink Preference' autumn sage is one of my favorite plant combos. Both are hardy here. I'm planting them on the other side of the path next spring for symmetry.
Cestrum ‘Orange Peel’ with ‘Pink Preference’ autumn sage is one of my favorite plant combos. Both are hardy here. I’m planting them on the other side of the path next spring for symmetry.

In fact, I planted another Salvia greggii ‘Pink Preference’ autumn sage on the south side yesterday to match the one on the north side of the path. Even when you do this though, things don’t always grow the same way and bloom at the same time. Sometimes, they do though, and then, it’s breathtaking.

What does your garden say about you? The potager in June still shows its structure.
The potager in June still shows its structure.

In the potager, again, I have very formal lines, but as you see, it becomes happily overgrown by late summer. This growth and general bounty make me very happy. It tells me the garden is happy, and I am content.

Potager at midsummer with sweet potatoes. The sweet potato vines take over, but they sure are pretty.
Potager at midsummer with sweet potatoes. The sweet potato vines take over, but they sure are pretty.

I’m so glad I read Swift’s book. All gardens are folly after all, and they change over time which is part of what makes gardening so fascinating.

This weekend, I’ll be in Asheville, NC, speaking at the Mother Earth News Fair about Ten Tips to Start on the Gardening Path to Happiness. If you live in the Asheville area, I hope to see you. Come up and say hi.

Now, if you’re off this weekend and have time, have a big think about your garden too. Does it express your personality? If not, what small changes can you implement to make it yours? After all, as Monty Don, one of my favorite celebrity gardeners, would say, “Gardens aren’t about plants. Gardens are about people.” What does your garden say about you?



  1. I think I would really enjoy this book, too. Sometimes it’s the mysteries of gardening that make it so worthwhile and rewarding. I enjoyed your post about Phlox, too. I love the scent and the beauty of them. 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Beth so much! Hope you’re busy planting.

  2. Some of the best things in life come from a “Big Think”, I love your garden photos…I think it is a bit above my pay grade to know what it all means, or says about anyone.

  3. Your article is thought provoking and heartful. I just read Thomas Rainer’s article at Gounded Design and you and he are on the save wave length. He refers to the development and growth over time as auteur work (Google translate author or copywrite work). “The BBG addition is also an auteur work, to borrow a phrase from Cahiers du cinéma, the 1950’s Paris-based journal in which film critic André Bazin first proposed the idea that great films, like great paintings, must be understood within the context of their creator’s style, traceable as it develops from film to film – thus qualities like Hitchcockian, Truffaut-istic and John Ford-inspired. ”
    Symetry puts us in a box and Bo-Ho allows us out of the box. You are a lovely gardener and author. Are we going to see any azaleas from NC?

  4. My word, Dee, I’m old enough to be your mother (actually I thought you were younger, just forgot how old I am.) How refreshing to find a book about the ‘why’ of gardening rather than the ‘how.’ Must read this one. Wishing you a happy spring! P. x

  5. There aren’t many straight lines in my garden, so I wonder what that says about me. I’ll find out soon enough, I have this book on hold at the library per your recommendation. I’d better get it tomorrow before they put it back!

  6. Vivian Swift says:

    Hi Dee – Thank you for your wonderful review of my book, made all the more wondrous because, you know, I am NOT a gardener, so Gardens of Awe and Folly contains absolutely no useful information about planting, weeding, pruning, or harvesting stuff. So thank you for not holding that against me.

    The blend of formal and playful elements in your gardening style reminds me very much of The Chelsea Physic in London. I particularly like the July billow, and all those blows swaths — makes me think that this morsel of Oklahoma is a place where (in the words of a certain English lover of hunny), it is a very Grand thing to be an Afternoon.” P.S. I had actually put a silly little bear in an illustration of the Physic, but took it out in the final manuscript because, well, not everyone gets the Tao of Pooh.

    I know you’ll be a hit in Asheville.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Vivian, I tried to reply before, but my website was having some problems, and my comment appears to be gone. I loved your book precisely because it wasn’t how to garden and blended the mystery of gardening with historical fact. Those of us who love gardens, whether we toil in them or not, see the deeper picture. Thank you for it and for your kind words. I do love Pooh. Did you know there’s a new book out about the 100-Acre Wood? The actual place? It’s pretty wonderful too. I think you’d like it. ~~Dee

  7. The many personalities of a midwestern garden. I love that we have all the seasons. Have a good weekend.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I agree. Seasons are a good thing.

  8. Bruce Batman says:

    Dee, I just received my copy of the book. Your gardens are so inspiring!!!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I hope you like it Bruce. I sure did. Thank you!

    2. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Bruce, I hope you enjoy it as much I have.

  9. Kylee Baumle says:

    This is one of the best things you’ve ever written, Dee.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Kylee. That means so much.

  10. gardenfancyblog says:

    I love the photos of your gardens — especially the one of your front garden in March. Those spring flowers are glorious! I also think your front door vignette is beautifully welcoming. I have been eyeing that book for some time now, even before publication, and think I might need to have a read…. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! -Beth

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Beth. I really appreciate it. I love this book. I really do. I won’t finish it because I keep savoring it.

  11. Chrsitina says:

    Love this description of your mind. 🙂 So fun! I guess my garden says i’m a hot mess because preschoolers and toddlers plant it and it’s very unorderly. 🙂 But i love it like I love them.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Christina, when my kids were little, mine was a hot mess too. Now, I miss some of that mess. Wish I could go back in time sometimes.

  12. Yes, I can see the diamond in your back garden. I really like the way you have your garden laid out. I think my garden does reflect me. A little bit of order within the chaos. If you could see inside my head there would be lots of ideas zinging around and lots of love for gardening. I so agree with you about what you see most is what you keep at. My garden is small and I do keep at it. I am glad you put the book on your blog. I will have to get it because since spring has retreated back to winter I could use a good read. Good luck in Asheville. I be it is gorgeous there right now. Enjoy.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, it’s a great read. I love hearing about what your garden says about you. In spring, I feel at my most creative. No mistakes have been made yet. No bad weather (other than late freezes or the return of winter), and everything is sparkling and beautiful.

  13. Exuberance within order is a very common way to approach garden design. It goes back to Sissinghurst, at least. I’m still trying to figure out the structure in my garden. About all I know is where people walk, but there’s a vast expanse of lawn that just seems to need something more. I will figure it out eventually. Or maybe I will decide I already have more than I can handle.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Well, Kathy you changed your whole life and garden when you uprooted yourself and moved. It’s starting to take shape, but it takes time as you know.

  14. Very thought provoking.

    Like you, I like both wild, and orderly. But most of all, I guess what my garden says about me is that I’m a hard headed Texan. As our ‘lawn man'(our ‘lawn’ is weeds to mow) said the other day “You just won’t give up, do you.”
    Flood and deer have caused almost starting all over, more than once.

    Your garden is lovely. The good bones pay off when the Boho sets in.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I think anyone who gardens in Texas or Oklahoma has to be hard headed, and I mean that in a good way. I know I’m hard headed. I fail, pick myself up, dust off my jeans and try again. I bet you do too Linda.

  15. Joey says:

    So enjoyed this post and viewing your creative/ongoing gardens and awesome/thoughtful mind! Has given me much to think about regarding my own garden. Off to check out the book! Thanks, dear Dee.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Joey, thank you so much for stopping by. I appreciate it. It’s a wonderful book. I finished it on the plane. Might read it again.

  16. I truly think the purpose of life is to help everyone do their best, and that includes gardening. Maybe this explains why my garden library keeps getting bigger and my blog subscription list keeps getting longer! Enjoyed this post. Hope you have a great weekend in NC!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thanks dear Marian. I think I’ll have a blast. I believe as you do that we’re all just trying to do our best.

    2. Jackie Pogue says:

      Beautiful gardens. Can you tell us where you found the lovely, purple chairs?

      1. Dee Nash says:

        Hi Jackie, I got those chairs from my mother about twenty years ago. They’ve been every color of the rainbow–not really, but I have painted them many different colors from French blue to their present purple. Thanks for the question.

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